By Waights Taylor
Meandering out of the north, the Russian
River is enveloped in winter’s grip:
steely dark waters, gray skies, bare trees,
and muddy banks filled with detritus
and flotsam from floods gone by.
The river wends around Fitch
Mountain ever seeking a path beneath
the dark skies to its destiny with the sea,
while daffodils, acacias, and mustard raise their
golden plumes to harken spring’s coming.
He meanders under the river’s two steel trestles—
a railroad bridge and a bridge for automobiles—
black holes for polluting fossil fuels.
Two fishermen stand on the railroad
bridge pier baiting their hooks.
The river and the mountain have so much
to tell—stories of the people who inhabited this land.
But first came the forces of nature:
the earthquakes, the glaciers, the floods;
shaping the land and its contours.
The first tribes came across the land bridge
from Asia’s frozen tundra to the warm valleys.
The Pomo people shared the land with
the fish, fowl, and animals—none were
denied their dignity and right to survival.
The land gave the Pomo the acorns and seeds
for their pistules and the reeds for their baskets.
The river seemed to flow upstream, awash in bright
vermillion as instinctive salmon and steelhead
thrashed to their ancestral breeding grounds.
For thousands of moons, the Pomo lived
as one with the land until the strangers came.
First, the conquistadores came from the south
with their missions, ranchos, and a new god.
The Pomo’s expulsion from the land had started.
Then from the west came the Cossacks
seeking new territories for furs, sea otters,
and trade. They also brought measles and
smallpox. An epidemic swept the people—
a tortured push from the land.
And finally, the allure of gold created a stampede
of Americans from the east—the Forty-Niners denuded
the mountains in their lust and then turned their
insatiable desire for land upon the Pomo, pushing
the people away by treachery, pestilence, and massacre.
The new people prospered, altering the land and
river with the trappings of the new society:
highways, bridges, and shopping centers.
The land was used for hops and prunes, and finally
grapes for wine to satiate Dionysus’s minions.
The past, not to be forgotten, the Pomo people
returned with a bag of chips in one hand and
a bag of fool’s gold in the other. The Pomo casino,
a temple to mammon, rises over the river
valley tempting all as Circe did Odysseus.
He yells to the fishermen, “Having any luck?”
“Nah,” says the fisherman.
“Whatcha fishing for—steelhead?”
“Yeah.” He walks away thinking,
“Where did all the salmon and steelhead go?”
Waights Taylor is a poet, playwright, and prose writer. His first book, Alfons Mucha’s Slave Epic – An Artist History of the Slavic People, was published in 2008, and his second book, Our Southern Home: Scottsboro to Montgomery to Birmingham – The Transformation of the South in the Twentieth Century, will be published in early 2011.