Straight Talk (or, Mule to Machine)

Straight Talk
(or, Mule to Machine)

There is a bend,
abandoned, but not,
in the course of this stream.

Man could not be satisfied
with direction that winds,
so took a straighter path.

What commerce desires
is a direct route, and mules
will not stand in its way.

Though traffic may follow
the straight path, the alternative
still holds its rewards.

I paddle this stretch, almost
a pond in its nature, with banks
home to muskrats and swallows.

Bass jump, no sign of water
chestnut, once invasive as man
in this quiet little stream.

One way or another,
we make our mark,
for good as well as bad.

This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: THE JOURNEY, which asks us to write “of the Earth’s own journey into this strange, post-Holocene era? How is your journey entwined with that tale?”

Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal opened commerce from the east coast to the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Running east-to-west, it was dug to a depth of four feet. Networked with other canals in the state it became the New York State Barge Canal (now the New York State Canal System).

In 1918 the canal was modernized and three sections of Tonawanda Creek (at the western end, the only natural waterway used for any distance on the old Erie Canal) were straightened (creating islands) to accommodate larger and deeper barges. From 2010 to 2012, water chestnut (an invasive species) became so thick in the area described in the poem that a mechanical harvester was used to clear it out.

Photo: (invasive) Water Chestnut in Tonawanda Creek, 19 July 2011

Shared with Open Link Night #305: December Live Edition at dVerse ~ Poets Pub

30 thoughts on “Straight Talk (or, Mule to Machine)

  1. My first thought for those water chestnuts was to haul some manatees up for a couple of summers. They probably would take care of them. I need to learn more about the Erie Canal. I know a little more about the St. Lawrence Seaway but not much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ali.
      Straightening the canal didn’t necessarily have a negative effect — in fact it created this quiet “side stream,” but the fact that we bend nature to our will raises the question of what the limits of that should be. Something as “innocent” as bringing Emerald Ash Borer into the country in the wood of a packing crate, or zebra mussels in bilge water of freighters to the Great Lakes, or this water chestnut (not the usual variety found in typical Chinese cuisine, but still eaten in Asia) escaping from botanical gardens to the point it’s considered invasive, so much of what man does has unexpected consequences.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like your poem, and I enjoyed hearing you read it and explain the background. I had no idea that there were many types of water chestnuts, nor that they were an invasive species clogging up waterways. I only knew of them from Chinese food.
    I remember singing that Eric Canal song in elementary school. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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