Like a caged animal relegated to a spectacle,
the falls churn as tourists gawk, knowing the rumble
and spray are for their amusement. Painters
daub at easels beside the granite block dam
and photographers focus on the roiling white foam.
Fishers cast their luck into bouldery, turbulent riffles.
Once the muscular water spun wheels and turbines,
turned gears and drive shafts that drove slapping
leather belts, powering machines and jobs energizing
a village with cash. It whirled dynamos, sending
streams of electrons along wires that lit a brick
factory, homes, the bank, grocery and barber shop.
The river ground grain, sawed lumber, forged steel,
stamped machetes, and sharpened axes.
In deeper time, natives came with spears to where
the swift water slowed the salmon, blueback herring
and shad. They feasted, celebrated, and fed families
in this place of abundance.
The river’s business is now entertainment, drawing
trade to the village like a free lunch. Sightseers stop
for fuel and a quick bite, bait, a newspaper
or bottle of beer. But as sure as the river runs, it holds
us in thrall, mesmerizing with falling water reflecting
every face as it slides over the precipice.
David Leff is an award-winning essayist, poet, and former deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. His website: www.davidkleff.com