“Susquehanna, Cooperstown, 2019” by Ryan Harper

On my way from the Hall to the headwaters
I saw a bald eagle flying across the lake.
I knew I could not write about it.
How to know the national animal:
the white head is secondary, confirmation;
it is the slow, deep wingbeat you will
always only note in transit, the constant
labor of a species that cannot trust the air
it breathes to support its carriage.

The Catskill foothills set me utopian
in the late day, sky blue under its own shade,
darkening against the pine rim of Otsego,
the diamond-pleated surface finished 
with reflection, up to the breach of Council Rock.    

I am not the first, though I imagine
I would like it so; for the dream of a peace
without context, which ancestor’s vision 
would I execute? It is a live option,
to wade across the Susquehanna here,

this river I first crossed on the Pennsylvania
Turnpike, wide as morning, the cooling towers
rising, retiring in the distance. I had not 
thought of Three Mile Island being somewhere.
It almost was not. Induction got me there.
I was one in 1979.

There was fission in my house: Lynchburg Baptist
and his thousand-guilt majority; Baptist
in the White House, born-again believer
in redeeming waters, rejected by his own;
Duke boys honking Dixie, sliding wild
across their blood-slabbed hood in prime time;

Pops and the Family gathered at Three Rivers,
adorned in electric sunshine, dancing their piece
of the world’s delighting melody as Willie Mays
entered the Hall, his first swing. I was one, already
held by and holding up the romances of a people.

Forty years and here I am descended
from the Hall to the headwaters of it all,
cleft clear and clued up to the mouth: Otsego
to Chesapeake—Natty Bumppo to Cal Ripken—
white men made legend by baseline decency

and serial presence. The shadows advance
slowly, deeply, as the sun sets, soaking
the crown of trees hillside in cooler light—
Chingachgook to Ernie Banks—forty years
and the diamond lies canvased, sheltered
from the wing-struck country air. Forty years 
and I am tracing the ghostly digits 
on the outfield wall: numbered, weighed, divided—
the retired, the inducted, the distances from home.

Ryan Harper is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Colby College’s Department of Religious Studies. He is the author of My Beloved Had a Vineyard (Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2018). Some of his recent poems and essays have appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Wild Roof Journal, River Heron Review, Maine Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, LETTERS, Cimarron Review, Chattahoochee Review, and elsewhere. Ryan lives in Waterville, Maine and New York City.