Attica Inmate #19-C-6747 Ruminates Upon The Genesee River

I heard a story once about a boy who lived out Ithaca way

(Some nice country, so folks tell me) that put a bottle

With a note inside in the lake out there

Which, so the tale goes, floated up the Seneca Canal

Into Ontario, and, from there, up to the St. Lawrence

To the Atlantic, the kicker being that someone found the note

Somewhere in Florida down around the Space Coast.

It’s a fanciful story, for sure; but a flight of fancy here and there

Is a welcome thing when your life consists of being counted out of bed

Herded to the mess and the yard , and one last body count

Before the flick, flick, flick of the lights at eleven.


This time of year the sky, still trying in fits and starts

To flush winter out of its system, is every bit

As gun-boat gray as the walls of this place, and when a soul has

All the time to think or, worse yet, remember, your mind

Will glide and wander to just about all the wheres and whens

And why-fors that you’ve banked up until now.

Lately I’ve found myself recollecting the ten-or-twelve year old me;

We lived in Castile (close to this place as the crow flies,

Though, practically speaking, it might as well be on Venus)

And, while our place was in town, my uncle Virgil had a farm

Up in the hills overlooking over the Genesee River,

And sometimes, I’d ride with him on his big old Farmall,

Huge, red-faced man singing in a voice better suited for an old maid,

And sometimes he’d let out a not-quiet-enough “Shit!”

If his attention wandered, and the cultipacker hit a goodly sized rock

With a “thwack” to let you know the disk was gone

Or chipped beyond use or repair, but I would just watch that river,

All dark and brown courtesy of the Kodak plant

Or Bausch and Lomb up in Rochester and, as I found out later,

The primary culprit in the Case of the Genny Screamers.

Uncle Virg would talk about how, before they built the dam

Down at Mount Morris, how the river would, come the melt

Of the snow pack and the cold rains of near-Easter,

Rise out of its banks like Gabriel himself and take that loose soil

And those dormant plants that had failed to root themselves

With due diligence and carry it away toward the big lake to the north.

And so I say now—river, run wide and run deep, and deposit

The dead bracken, the stunted crownvetch, the broken milkweed

Upon some unnamed shore to perhaps find a dwelling

In the sun, there to take hold and, just conceivably, prosper.


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