American River


Fifth Estate # 413, Spring, 2023

Walking along the river’s edge,

The water level low this year

The receded river reveals


A lifetime’s worth of accumulated

Garbage. A bicycle straddles

A burned out, gutted blue


Sofa, spilling its soggy innards

To a sun close and ragged.

I step through tall grasses


And reeds and feel the ground

Give as my right foot crushes

The jellied chest of a rabbit,


Left eye still open, intact, surveying

The world’s turning over and into

The future, ceaseless, to the caress


And applause of a mourning mass

Of flies gorging on the stink. I gaze

Over the water, color of childhood’s


Chocolate milk we chugged to build

Our bones strong enough to labor cheaply,

Consume greatly, or die in war. The water


Barely moves it seems, swirls lazily on

Occasion, bubbles and froths in small

Whirlpools, passes under bridges


Where homes are made, carrying hypodermics,

Shredded clothing, condoms, flowers,

Down the river far away, the city’s dirty


Valentine delivered daily on the open

Veins of the river, low this year, yet somehow

still praiseworthy in its tattered beauty.


A cool flag, dissecting the city’s body

and teeming still with life in the midst

Of the ongoing 21st century death parade.

Nick DePascal is a poet and high school teacher in Albuquerque.