Green Night of Great Mother Bay

Mother of the Bay
by Michael Salcman M.D.

reading by Michael Salcman                                                                                                                                             

We sit in the bottle-necked mouth of the Corsica,
my boat and I, four hundred miles south
of the river’s birth, stirring a fugitive part of the Bay
where the current slows down and the bottom lifts
its shallow fist in a wave, daring my keel
to pass over. But my head still throbs

with last night’s wine and worse, the noise of geese
rising in the fields to distract me.
Entering the cut, I’m in and out in a moment,
overtaken with a flood rising like memory,
when the estuary seemed immortal and choked with life.
Too rushed to despair, I steer and pass by.

Not too many think of her now
in the old Indian way—say Susquehanna slowly
and what you hear is Mother of the Bay;
she comes with poison today
gathered from coalfields, blooming algae
in silt and debris, trapping oyster and crab

in nitrate and shale, drowning life in life.
The Susquehanna flows past ravaged hills, skips
and swashes on broad-faced stones long-settled
in the Flats, drives quickly past a million oaks,
their stances cocked on cliffs, their branches burning
as she rolls from Wilmington and North East

to Rising Sun and Aberdeen, all the towns in between
Baltimore and Philadelphia, stitched like cowry shells
in the terrain of an inland sea
glaciers gouged eons before shellfish calmed
its underwater garden. In Elk's Neck, Elkton,
and Newark, and throughout the Bush River,

the snowmelt drains from far in the throats
of Adirondack creeks, adding fresh water to the mix
of ocean brack and grasses making up the Chesapeake:
a Susquehannock word for great river
where strange fish with hard coverings lay—unknowing
in giving a name to our Bay, praying for its survival.                                           

Green Night of Great Mother Bay
oil on canvas
54 x 27” 

1. Michael Salcman M.D. First published in Connecticut River Review, 2006.
First collected in Salcman's The Enemy of Good is Better, Orchises Press, Washington D.C., 2011. Reprinted & revised as above in Salcman's Necessary Speech: New & Selected Poems, Spuyten Duyvil, New York, 2022.