An Armada On The Oswegatchie

I. “…I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport…”


She is there any day she can wheedle and whine her mother to the water,

From the intermittent teasing warmth of late March all through summer

Until such time she is there mitten-clad and scarf-wrapped like some miniature Tut

To ward off January’s razor-blade winds in those last few days

Until such time there is but ice all the way up to the big river in Ogdensburg.

She scrambles down to the bridge abutment near the Riverside Cemetery

Dropping a Popsicle-stick craft, carrying a message stapled in a sandwich bag

And ornamented by sails made from snips of cloth or scrap paper into the river.

Most times, the craft founders quickly, taken under by a sudden gust of wind

Or some large stick or carelessly tossed forty-ounce Hamm’s empty,

But on occasion the boat will stay upright and precariously totter along

Until it slips out of sight past the bend near the hospital,

At which time she will say Mommy, that one will make it to the ocean,

So we can go home now.


II. Another day brought to you by the letter “L” and the number “3”.


She is late again, breathing a bit heavily as she speed-walks in

And begins to proffer her apologies and explanations.

Don’t worry about it, OK? the counselors assure her;

They expect to hold the after-school care open for an hour or so,

As there is always an unexpected double-shift,

Or the snow makes the trip back down from Canton or Potsdam

A slippery, wheel-gripping nightmare,

Or the father who promised without a doubt that he would pick up the kid

Proved unreliable once more (as for the little girl who sits at the table

Applying glue and lining up tongue depressors with a painstaking precision

That would put the craftsmen at Rolls-Royce to shame,

Her father is rarely mentioned and even less seen,

An infrequent and uncredited cameo in her life.)

The staff often joke amongst themselves about the paucity of fathers,

In both number and quality, and the center director will often say,

Well, at least they have Elmo as the man in their lives.


III. “…I’d still swim. And I’d depise the one who gave up.”


They have come to the river once more, during unlocking time

Thin layer of mud and brown grass over the mostly frozen earth,

Crab-walking carefully as they half-stride, half-slide to the water’s edge,

Giggling or cursing as they descend the slope.

The girl gingerly places the craft in the water,

Whispering a brief benediction before she sets it free.

It is one of those fortunate happenstances where the boat stays upright

Until such time as it rounds the last bend before the river ducks out of sight.

An onlooker might cluck and shake his head

And tell her that such a toy would never make it outside the village limits,

Certainly never past the big bridges on Route 58 at Elmdale or up past Pope Mills,

Let alone to the St. Lawrence, but he might check himself,

Sensing that there had been enough lowered expectation and disenchantment

For one life already, so he might inquire

As to what messages are in the plastic baggies.

She would, all mock-sterness in her voice though her eyes betray her,

Answer simply That is between me and the angelfish.







4 thoughts on “An Armada On The Oswegatchie

  1. This is a mesmerizing read, bittersweet and full of the excoriating detail of life that makes it joyful and makes it hurt. The characters are alive and breathing. Very fine writing, and a triptych to remember.

  2. Magnificent… Oh the pain of growing up: the everlasting hope of the hopeless children, the messages to an deaf-eared world.. It is all here in your honest style – the voice that tells it like it is, brimming with compassion for the underdog. I’m always in awe of your talent.

  3. Difficult to say I enjoyed the read because of the content, but it’s a fabulous work of art, that says much that needs saying in today’s world and says it with some force. It deserves a wider distribution.

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