Burning River

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by Amelia Brady

Recorded by author

The city, the sparkleswelter concrete,
tells me what’s what. 
This riverfire is not happening. 
It is all pretend — there are no photos, and if there are, they don’t matter. 
Rivers don’t burn, don’t burst like that into oilshine hellmoving, coursing through town.
They slide, yes, with yellowsweet ooze, streetlight reflecting, skeletons piling, but
rivers don’t burn — they sludgeswim, groping for freshness.
Rivers don’t burn, but they hold new things now, 
alien fish, zebra mussels, and so much algae
you could walk on water. 
The rivers are different now, yes,
but we can drink them up, still, see, 
downriver from it all, 
we drink them and our teeth turn black, we drink them
and our throats are slick—slackened, bloodless lips and too-small babies.  
Rivers don’t burn, they creep, into the lake where the fishing is, used to be 
that you could catch all kind of fish with your hands,
there were so many.
Now things are different, yes, but we eat.
We rotfeast and sing, 
sing to the heavens with our bellies full of fire. 


Author’s note: The Cuyahoga River, which runs north into Lake Erie and bisects Cleveland, Ohio, has caught fire as the result of excessive industrial and agricultural pollution at least thirteen times, most recently, if quietly, in 2020.

Recorded by Kevin Lay

Amelia Brady is a poet and herbalist originally from the land bordering Lake Erie currently called Cleveland, Ohio, and now makes home in the Piedmont of North Carolina. They studied literature at American University and currently study plant medicine at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Amelia deeply loves the commonly misunderstood beings of the world, like insects, fungi, and coyotes. Their work can also be found in Mergoat Magazine.

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