Nathan Erwin

The Chemung River on Midwinter’s Eve


Lit like stars, our children’s ash
transmits across the understory. Our kids have moved on, drifted
toward war, nodded off in snowbanks, and the lucky few have tumbled
out of these hills in half-light.            Winter rehabilitation, and if not,
Death calls their new name.              Don’t call them Junkie.
Address your letters to Root, Coydog, & Underground River.

Years from now, the moon will unstick herself and rise,
leaving snow tracks along the dike. By then, we’ll all be
recovering                 from something.
Pine needles curling at the fire’s edge
will spell a way home.              Our boys will surface
from the Chemung                   with clean needles and new lovers.
This town will rest
like the first time you hold a newborn,
like racing a ghost in the spirit rodeo.

Today, the stars whirl around us, the river runs northeast, and children build a fire
with river-echoes, those firecrackers of time
spread away from a town patting itself dry. Those kids call,         don’t name us at all.
They know that only you Chemung, Great Horned One, can judge us and flow south.



Nathan Erwin is a land-based poet who was raised on the Allegheny Plateau, the northernmost tier of Appalachia. An IAF and Harvard trained organizer, Erwin currently operates at Boston Medical Center to prevent overdose deaths and at the Pocasset Pokanoket Land Trust building healthy futures for farmers and land stewards. His writing has most recently appeared in FOLIO, Willow Springs, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Bombay Gin. His organizing and his poetry are conversant, and so he writes about land, drugs, myths, and wanting.