Justin Walter


Low hanging branches obscure portions of the drifting river;
Coy and unabashed, she shelters parts of her beauty.

With a glance, she looks beyond her scars,
Mechanisms to restructure, rectify the greed.

She bears no grudge through her suffering;
She believes, knows, that man's time is brief.
And she will gently sweep his still, battered form to her unfathomable bosom.


Down a great portion of the length of the Susquehanna River, the shores are covered in the greenery of healthy forest growth, an amount of life a far cry from what could be seen in the landscape in the past—a history that all too nearly claimed the life of the river and the life dependent upon its sustenance. The opening stanza begins with an outside view of the river, peering through the dangling branches of the trees growing in proximity to the river. Depending upon where one is positioned, different areas are possible to see; those areas left mainly to nature provide much more separation from forest and water than were man has worked to combine them. The second stanza works to bring the reader closer to the personality of the river, showing that, while she takes account of the damage, she remains confident in herself, though she constantly alters the lines and the way the water moves. Also in that stanza, there is a movement to the recognition of what man has done to the river and the land and his attempts to fix the damage, similar to the teflon frames that are used to repair facial damage, and it incorporates the efforts of various organizations, ranging from environmental organizations to the Engineering Corp. Man understands more in modern time the delicacy of the river and how much he is dependent upon the her. Finally, the last stanza displays the view that the river has toward man, the creature that has abused her and her gifts. Despite all that has been done to her, she remains in her course that was there before the formation of the ridges around her, and she will outlast the time of man. The remnants of society of man will crumble in time, and yet she will remain. The poem attempts to show that the river will outlast the extent of man in the natural order, but should also call into the question for the reader to what extent we as humans must view our actions as effecting our surrounding environments and how best to proceed from that.


Half-sketched logs congest the river's avenues,
Rushing, yet drifting, to the distant boom.

Butchered, skinned, their forms are quieted,
Limited to watery whispers.

Their lives forfeit, sacrifices or martyrs.
Man's hunger rends bark from trunk.


This poem begins with a depiction of the Susquehanna River when the forests around it were undergoing clear cutting, and the water itself was used as an avenue of transport for the trees. The usage of half-sketched is to generate an overlay of the past reality on top of the present-day visualization of the river. These logs were then collected in a mass grave of sorts, the boom, where they waited to be selected for further steps of production. However, this can be taken in the direction that the lumber was used to fuel the economic and timber boom that resulted. The second stanza details the trees as they are cut down to the ground and then have the bark and branches shaved from their trunks. No longer can their leaves rustle and their branches rub one another; the only sound they can make at their present station is the slight gurgle of water as they float and possibly rotate in the watery grave. Then, in the third stanza, it moves away from the physical and moves toward the metaphysical, the meaning behind what is happening to the trees. The lives of the trees are over, and they are being used by man for various services on a huge scale. The mechanism of the natural system is the combination of life and death, which allow for the continuation of the constituent elements. Therefore, though the trees were cut down by the actions of man, they could have understood and condoned the advantages resultant from their deaths. Continuing with this is the understanding that even as man denudes the trees of their coverings, so will nature later denude man of his flesh in death. The cycle exists, whether man accepts is, all are cut down at some point. The reader is intended to become a bit more aware of his place in the cycle, to come closer to the acceptance that one day his life will end; his dreams and aspirations will turn to the fodder for the continuation of further lives of the world.


Floating atop calm waves of the river
I gaze around the fleeting landscape.

The resources upon which I depend,
Land and water as symbiotes.

Greenery borders the liminal edges,
As algae blossoms on still waters.

Yellow caterpillars bulldoze through,
Stripping down to the bared soil.

Expended lives tell the tale, the cause—
Everything taken by man.

Fish in the river replaced by bread on the land,
My waddling gait slows as I die.


This poem attempts to display an interpretation of some of the developments that have occurred along the Susquehanna River in modern times and in prior years through a perspective which greatly differs from that of the human. The narrator of the poem is a duck, which has achieved a certain level of enlightenment, though many of the other forest denizens could tell similar tales as that of the waterfowl. The importance of the first stanza is to establish the setting in broad strokes, with somewhat of a question to the transitory. Then, the second stanzas further describes the interrelatedness of aspects of the environment to one another. The third then grounds the reader once more in the physical landscape. Moving to the fourth, the mechanical components that develop the surroundings enter into the environment. Caterpillars are natural creatures that devour vegetation, but they are also construction vehicles that strip the plants and chase the creatures from the land. Trees are felled for timber and brush is cleared for housing. These events take place for the advantages of humans, ranging from the basic level homes for people to the lumber industries, to the historic industries that took such a large toll upon the region in the area's past. In the fifth stanza, the dead and lost tell the tales of their woe to the duck, explaining that their lives were spent in the human quest for expansion and comfort. Finally, the last stanza pertains to the change in diet that is necessitated by the loss of the natural habitats, forever altered. Instead of the natural diet, killed from runoff and chemicals, the duck is forced to eat donations from humans, a standard staple for one but alien to another. They, the creatures, must either embrace and develop according to human plans, or fall to the wayside as their time passes. The reader should be aware how even tangential connections matter.


Drooping leaves grin crookedly, smirking,
Content in their knowledge of their fate.
Death comes for them soon and they  seek no quarter,
Trusting in the nature of their guiding river.

She beckons to them, tempting with her coming caresses.
They understand not the fight of man to prolong his time.
For them, the future is welcoming,
To where their dessicated forms are borne,
Carried unto a different place, a different time.

They can feel it in their stems,
Straining their tiny forms, they reach—
Not heavenward, not to escape,
But to her, to truly be one, with her.


This poem studies the relationship of man to his inevitable future in consideration with the likely views of the natural world. The natural order works in cyclical pattern, feeding off of the actions and the bodies of those that came before. This cycle cannot be escaped, no matter the steps taken to circumvent it. The leaves have the knowledge of their short existence, particularly short in comparison to many of the other organisms throughout the forest they share, but they do not fixate upon this aspect of their physical structures. Instead, their focus is on the river that flows beneath them, their goddess in many ways. They do not look for escape from this world, a so-called salvation, a removal from the earth. Their concentrations are upon fulfilling the tasks attributed to them and performing what is needed of them until it comes to be the time for them to die. At this point, they shed their lives in order to become one with the nature that abounds around them. Mankind, likely since its origins, has been oriented along a path to extend life farther and farther into the future, through sciences and religious practices and faiths. The leaves have their own religion, of sorts, but it more an understanding of their place in the cycle, and instead of bemoaning the brevity of life, they delight in the time they have. The short duration increases the value of their existences. In death, they fulfill the secondary portion of the cycle: the decay of their physical forms nourishes and allows future organisms to grow and develop. There is an interconnected web that joins all of the various aspects of the natural world to one another, a unification of those present in the physical world.


One cannot find what is not there.
All traces soon vanish
But statues of granite and marble.

The importance is only in that.

That we fought.
That we died.

Falling headlong into her,
Her muddied, bloodied waters.
She knew, she understood.

Our sin washed away,
Dispersed by her caress.


In its origins, this poem called upon points of the history of the Susquehanna River, particularly its involvement in the events of the American Civil War. During this war, the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, the Susquehanna River served as a demarcation above which the Confederate would not be allowed by Union forces to cross. Several points along the river were contested, but none saw the successful fording by Confederate forces. At several locations throughout Pennsylvania and other states, there have been numerous memorials erected to the men who died fighting in the Civil War, but the role of the Susquehanna in the war has not made its way into common knowledge. From this genesis, something greater has risen. There is an attempt to combine some of the traditional spiritual elements associated with rivers along with the mythology of warfare. The purification of battle and fire joined with the purification of flowing water meet with the men living their lives at a time when they faced brutal conditions and died in massive numbers. The goal of this poem is not to celebrate or bemoan the fates of either side in this particular war, or to make a greater statement about wars, but rather to pay remembrance for the toll war takes on everyone, whether fighting as a soldier, or surviving as a human being.


Popping into periphery, they burst from the underbrush;
Boundless energy of spring graces cocked limbs of twin fawns,
White spots reflecting in the dappled sunlight.
Cropping grass at the water's edge, mother watches carefully.
Feeling the wind upon them, the fawns frolic.
Only the soft caress of water upon the shore—nothing to fear.


This poem is fairly simple on the basic of depiction. Two fawns running along the shoreline while their mother watches them, similar to children at a playground. It is an attempt to capture some of the innate beauty of the natural creatures that make the Susquehanna region their home. The brevity of youth, and the innocence that goes along with it are strange conceptions in some ways, the question of when and how they are over or how they should be relinquished. The fawns see nothing around to fear; at this point, they might not understand fear. Their mother knows, and she watches. Nothing makes itself known at that time, but there is always the potential for something to arise that would prompt the response of running. Potential dangers lurk in the natural element as well as from man's interventions, and the fear of the natural world is something that many humans have lost through development of constructs. If a higher message must be imposed upon this poem, it would be the similarities between many animals and humans. Some characteristics are found in common throughout the animal kingdom, such as caring for the offspring, and humans are not as far removed from the natural order as they often like to believe they are.


Mysteries locked behind iron-barred doors
Stretch out wispy tendrils of corruption.

Sunset pink skies highlight vertical incisions
Gashed by steam-spewing sheet-metal stacks.

Acres of exploited soil etched
With irrigation and irradiation.

Rock veins blasted open, nitroglycerin the knife
Slashing through the tender human wrists.


Somewhat disturbing in its directness and language, there is not much working at a deeper level in this poem. Just as the rock has been blasted, scratching down through its layers of time, the content of the poem is bored down to the lowest levels, ending in a somewhat brutal degree of language. While some portions of industry are necessarily for human life to exist as it does presently, humans must still study the environment around them in order to determine the point at which there will be enough, and the point in which the landscape can cease to be altered in such extreme methods. Population controls and food choices would go a great distance when applied across the masses of the world, and one of the only ways for progress in the realm of environmental protection is for humans to look at what is around them and recognize that what is there is worth saving, or salvaging.


He explodes from the hidden nest,
A flurry of tawny feathers,
And finds a perch upon a leafy stem.

Buffeted by the wind,
A slight breeze and yet a gale,
His grip remains secure.

He rides the movements of the stem,
Body bobbing in the airstream,
Though he strains against the current.

His head remains immobile,
Held still in defiance:
A master of motionless motion.


Another of the few that does not stress an environmental perspective, just an encouragement to study the landscape around where humans live. The action within is a bird flying from his nest and landing upon the stem of a nearby plant. The wind is blowing at a steady breeze, but relative to his size, it is much stronger. The force of the wind and the weight of his body upon the stem causes him to bob. However, despite the smooth rocking motion of his body, his head remains locked in the same exact coordinates, not relative to his head, but relative to space. Thus, the appearance is given of two degrees of movement. First is the rocking of the body while holding the head still, but additionally, there is the appearance of him thrusting his head forward while he is pushed back. A question of stresses and efforts. Would it be easier to allow the wind to move his body and hold his head steady, or to thrust at the same rate as the reverse motion? Perhaps the greater question than the how is the why. And the why is something that will remain only for his knowledge.


Spidery fingers clad in faceted coats of green
Reach down from their thatched canopy.

The sun's light streams through intertwined branches,
Cascading over the plants beneath.

A red fox saunters into a patch of golden light,
Nosing about for a tasty morsel.

Lapping from a clear spring, he pauses, ears perked.
And he vanishes; all things dissipate.

White-hot fire rages across the violated earth
Propelled by the force of atoms rent asunder.


The final poem in the collection, it is also the most grim. This poem is not about the relationships between man and nature, nor the emotional impact of said relationships. It deals purely with the direction in which man is currently headed. Breakdowns in communication between world powers, creation of nuclear weapons, energy crises, and so forth bring humanity closer to the brink of committing actions that before would not have been conceivable. The damage that was done to parts of the United States and the ocean, not even as attacks, but as testing, are indicative of the risks that face the entirety of the earth. Man will kill himself in his entirety if he continues along this path, and it will not be long in the future. Humans are at a point where they can choose the path they will take; they have the opportunity to alter the trajectory and shift their destination. The natural world will heal from what man has done, but it is up to the minds and hearts of man as to whether he will be around when nature returns to the power of her glory.


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