River Town

Steve Myers


—for all the Wilsons

The custom summers as the new bridge went in
                                                                              was to step out after dinner
& gather on the bank to take the measure of the builders, what they’d done
that day, or left undone,
                                        more judgments rendered than bait in the water
from Buffalo Creek to the Maryland border, though most swung slowly
toward consensus—
                                  not Republican for nothing, most of them.

                                                                                                Then smaller caucuses
would begin, murmurs, the raising of a voice or hand as the fresh-poured concrete
& the trestles reddened as they did each evening
                                                                              (in the light of light is the virtu),
just before the sun dropped down behind the Alleghenies.

                                                                                          It wasn’t so long since
the place had run on Wilkes-Barre & Shamokin coal, coffee, prime oysters,
& fat cigars;
                    or since Brown the shutterbug bragged, “grown persons so natural
their photos have been known to walk off,” & the local paper had billed itself
“Not Sensational. Reliable.”

                                             Now the steel deck beams that reach mid-span
confirm “Reliable” again, the deep-sunk pylons unspoken assumptions:       

That a town worth the name should have its Athlete to honor—not some dimestore
minor leaguer but a Hall of Famer—make him humble, comely, master craftsman—
a legend, dead before his time;
                                                 needs small-talk overspilling its sills & screened-in
porches, spattering its sidewalks;
should be settled in soil mud-rich, alluvial,
as much for the increase of  idiom & eye as its backyard plots, its heirloom corn,
beans, squash—the Susquehannock’s “three sisters.”

                                                                           That a town should be able to claim
its own homegrown hymn with a river in it, where the people gather & one by one
wade in, gazing east & choiring, then silent, swaying,
                                                                                     everyone breathing in unison
as they ready themselves for the final burden.


Steve Myers has published a full-length collection, Memory's Dog, and two chapbooks. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has previously published sections of his Pennsylvania poem sequence in places such as Callaloo, Here, Kestrel, The Penn Review, Permafrost, The Southern Review, Stone Canoe, and Tar River Poetry. Two other sections are forthcoming in The Southern Review and Tar River Poetry. He heads the poetry track for the MFA in Creative Writing at DeSales University.