Father of the continent!
Breast broad and deep and long and strong,
that artery pulsing with the mud of your heart,
how far you reach!
Fingers thrust high and wide into the wintry north reaches
of the heartland,
tiny capillaries bleating and bleeding
as they clench at the rich soil that is the land’s head—
breadbasket, ever-growing, dark source of life:
Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin.
Down you wend your way South,
snaking your trail through the Midwest,
your touch caressing Iowa, Illinois, Missouri:
land of corn and cattle, swine and soy,
waves sweet with sundered soil,
sweeping ever onward.
When the spring comes, you break free of the chains
imposed by ice, shake off your winter slumber,
and dance your way deeper into the land,
floes of your frozen flesh
colliding with one another,
grinding against each other like teeth gritted in frustration,
until at last they return to your bloodstream.
Oh, I hear you singing
when the thunderstorms of the heartland burst over you
with a rumble of anger and the hiss of the rain;
happy as these clean tears join to your bosom,
angry that they are needed,
sorrowful when they too are tainted.
Held within the heart of you is the blues,
and you have so much to grieve,
but yet you refuse to lay down and die.
Here you grow grumpy, growling:
the places of man spill their poisons into you,
burning in your belly,
enriching the bottom silt with chemicals
that the trees that line every bank
draw up with their thirsty roots,
weakening their hold on the shore,
and inch by inch each year those banks
draw farther apart, a middle-aged spread in the fundament
that only gets wider the further down you go.
In your depths swim great catfish and carp,
trash-eaters, gobblers of filth, who take up what man
would toss away, processing it through their bowels,
shitting out clean soil again. White blood cells of the river,
doing all they can to dispose of such infections,
unloved and unrespected denizens of the depths.
Your stance at the bottom is widest, drawn out,
the toes of each tributary digging deep
into the Louisiana soil, rich and dark and toxic,
water washing your ankles,
until at last you empty into our mother, the sea
–mother! O mother!—
rejoicing to be reunited with her,
exhausted by every inch of the long journey,
your substance returning to the womb where she created you,
and in her belly,
two become one again
and you sleep.