for John Lane, who writes about our rivers, and for Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler, who protects them
Back then, crossing over was an event—
the bridge told you so, its arches and fancy
lanterns—time moved on below you. Crossing
over meant becoming someone, a different
being headed to a different place. Of course
Sherman had burned an earlier one. Back then,
you could get off the trolley at the Richland end
of the Gervais Street bridge, walk up the canal
to Irwin Park on Laurel, with its tiny zoo
and its view of the state penitentiary, a park
blacks could use only on Tuesdays and Thursdays—
so many ways to lock things up, block things
off, like dropping rocks on the toxic sludge
of coal tar that leaked back then and now lines
the river bottom from here down to Blossom.
Turn the tap and take a glass of water.
Imagine it, the whole watershed distilled
into eight clear ounces in your hand,
filtered first by the mussels before it ever
reaches a treatment plant, the slabshells
and heelsplitters, the pink rayed fatmucket.
Upstream, rivers of traffic now converge
on the I-26 bridge, slow down to sluggish
in the daily rush, and we’re lucky if we even turn
soon enough to see the great blue heron
like an origami trick, a cantankerous kite,
unfolding itself into flight against the sky.