Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Lewistown Narrows
The mountains roll from Allegheny's wild breast
To the rich orchards beyond the last sharp crest
And some ridges sweet
Like a baby's new bottom
And some mountains solemn
Wooded sloping forgotten

But the mountain over that road
Stands an ill-tempered beast
Deep-wounded and dying
The crows impatient to feast

Draining high meadows
And pine-barren wastes
The sly Juniata
Cuts seaward at last
Onwards to conjunction
With her beau Susquehanna
In a maidenly hurry
She knifes her way east

The mountain in distress
Round his wound to press
Rumbles and shifts
A crumbling moan

This ruin has left
A long small passage
Seven miles run
From Lewistown valley
Onward in darkness
To lowland finale
Seven miles wander
Close by the river
Seven miles darker
Closer still to the victim
A ruinous wound
Walked in deep twilight
Between river and riven
A treacherous path.

The mountain is bitter
And the mountain is blind
And the mountain flings boulders
At its foe in the night

This ambush is ancient
Many ages old
But to the mountain and river
Instants still known

We briefly mayfly in the space in between
Sudden and swift but not easily seen
We cut the road, we cut a clear path
But to the mountain it seems one more goad to wrath.
The river yet higher
To be responded in kind
Rocks and stone showers
From stubbornness mined.

People will build
In all sorts of places
Garages and shacks
And homes by the road

But mountain is hard
And mountain is fierce
And mountain will fling
Boulders without cease

Like a cruel child dropping
Clods on a nest
The blind killing mountain
Will smash in your rest

They put up their fences
They built up these walls
The threw up high nets
To parry the falls

But the mountain is old
And the mountain's hot rage
And the mountain won't notice
Trifles to cage

The garages are crushed
The windows smashed by debris
The doorsteps buried under
By the tidal scree

Decades spend in a
Tumultuous battle
Dwellings buried under
The mountain's death rattle

Some men
With more stubborn than sense
Dig out again
Mended their fence

The ruins still stand
Excavated and proud
And every night's rubble
Cleared in morning's first light

For the narrows are deep
And the mountain too steep
And precious little light
In this passage twilight

And the cars rush by
And the trucks creep slow
Between the rushing river
And the mountain's death throe

For even the travelers
And the wanderers know
That the narrows are danger
And death to take slow

For the passage is narrow
And the road even so
And the boulders will come
When the hard winds blow

The narrows were decked
Through seven slow miles
With white cross reminders
Of the murdering wilds

A hundred of wrecks
Along the narrows hold
A hundred some lives
Lost to a murdering road

The narrows are hungry
And the narrows are dark
And some few who enter
Will never depart

And the slow-motion death of a murdered massif
Still claims new victims in vehicular flight
In this long darkness of the narrows twilight.


OK, before anyone points this out, this poem is wildly exaggerated, mostly for dramatic effect. The Lewistown Narrows are not nearly as apocalyptic as I paint it, here. The buildings are now boarded up and damaged, but mostly due to eminent domain seizure, trespassing, and arson. Your chances of getting through the Narrows unscathed are about as high as, say, getting through the Surekill on a Friday afternoon. On the other hand, it is one of the bloodiest stretches of state road in the commonwealth, so it isn't by any means a particularly *safe* road. The white crosses are a fact of history, also – there used to be dozens of them scattered along the roadside until someone at PennDOT decided they were distracting on a road with more than it share of legitimate hazards. You can still see one or two on the Lewistown end of the Narrows. My contacts at PennDOT assure me that they're working on a replacement highway through the Narrows – thus the eminent domain seizures – but they're talking about staying on the same, narrow, dangerous side of the river as the current road is on. I have no idea how they're going to deal with the rockslopes – unless they're planning on doing some truly monumental dynamiting in an attempt to get the critical slope going in their favor.

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