The Ohio River stretches a mile wide.
Her eddies and currents, highway
To Tall Stacks, their paddle wheels laboring
The length from Pittsburg to the New Orleans,
Slapping the water while steam engines
Shoot black soot across the sky.

Here is where women learned to wear long pants
And men learned to let them.
Society arrived but only at the end of a gun.

Today’s festival brings clean boats,
painted white and red stacks
A celebration of our beginnings
When we slaughtered pigs, traded pelts,
Brewed beer in the German tradition.

In those days, boats were not clean, not white.
Their decks stained red from their slaughterhouse cargo and clay.

In spring, rain washed the docks,
Clearing them of industry’s price and smell,
Leaving her own perfume,
Rich, thick and sticky
Like the mud on long shore boots.
Washing downstream to the Mississippi to New Orleans
Where the sea swallowed our bones
And kept our secrets.

Alyse Sammarco
June 2, 2021