The river arranges us.
Pain came by way of the river.

When I walk along its trail,
I feel small, contained.

When I walk along, I feel ashamed,
the banks lined with sycamores,

white trunks gleaming, a distant meanness
trembling through their leaves.

The river centers anyway,
churning for us all, clean, dirty,

most some of each. The river too
undrinkable, but we want

to touch with fingertip or toe,
in spite of history.

No gods, no devils, no words
can tell us what it is.


** “Richmond was among the largest Atlantic slave trade markets in the United States… Many slaves were sold in the eight-block neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom on the north bank of the James River.” from The James River Association’s Top 40 Historical Facts about the James River Watershed