(Nippenose Valley, Lycoming County, PA)
by Christopher Ruff
This is the scene of our slow suicide:
the sweet water mountain stream—
not gathering, not garnering strength
as it tumbles down into this bowl-
shaped valley, but vanishing—
slipping into the small cracks
of the creek bed at first, but then
completely disappearing into a sink hole.
Here: the seven layers of our limestone lives
are pockmarked and dissolving—
underground rivers carving out caves
until there is nothing left—
a natural depression where the locals dump
old tires, rusted out refrigerators,
a washing machine, dog-eared and dented,
empty paint cans, a disintegrating burn barrel—
things discarded, forgotten about, with the hope
they’ll somehow disappear too.
There are scars from past high water:
the track marks where creeks ran high in spring—
the groundswell of a retreating winter—
collapsed roads like hollowed-out veins,
washed out and sagging beneath
the weight of our own making.
And this is where I bring us:
To the edge of the darkening water,
where it pools up momentarily—
at the bottom of a canyon walled in on three sides—
before it sinks back beneath the earth.
The evening sun cuts a sharp, southerly line
above us— leaving us in the shadows, shivering.
And we stand here like the amateur farmer-
geologists of a century ago, who tossed
a clutch of bound corn cobs into the deep
to find out where this water returned to them—
like the desperate bottled words
of the marooned and deserted tossed into the sea
and carried back by the tides.
But our words:
a whisper, graffitied
on a wall of rock, washed away with each rain
into the underground streams of time—
where, we hope, someone is standing
on the other side—where history boils up
like a freshwater spring—
and that someone lingers
long enough to read, to speak, and to hear
the echoes of our existence—
and to know that we were more than this.
* “The term karst describes a distinctive topography that indicates dissolution (also called chemical solution) of underlying soluble rocks by surface water or ground water. Although commonly associated with carbonate rocks (limestone and dolomite), other highly soluble rocks such as the evaporates (gypsum and rock salt) can be sculpted into karst terrain.
“Understanding caves and karst is important because 10 percent of the Earth's surface is occupied by karst landscape and as much as a quarter of the world's population depends upon water supplied from karst areas.” (USGS.gov)