Wendy Mitman Clarke M’16, Director of College Communications
“What most people see of the river is mostly one-dimensional, on the surface. Beautiful as that is, I’ve always been more interested in what’s going on underneath. When the Center for Environment & Society’s John Seidel and Doug Levin used the Callinectes and its underwater mapping and scanning technologies to discover a shipwreck in Devils Reach, a stretch of river just downstream from the College’s waterfront campus, I wrote a poem about it. It must have connected with other people, too, since the poem won the 2015 Pat Nielsen Poetry Prize.”
A disastrous accident took place in Chestertown on Saturday, May 5, 1759, when the brigantine “Sophia,” belonging to Beddeford, England, was consumed by fire to the water’s edge. The flames, it was reported, were effectively fanned by the wind, which was on that day extremely high. The blame for this misfortune was incidentally laid against an ignorant carpenter who, after finding it impossible to go ashore to heat the pitch pot, had the imprudence to heat it on board the “Sophia.”
—The Maryland Gazette
Always the mirror, this reach in the river.
Wind-whipped or languid, time stretches past
the water’s edge revealing what we want to see
the way a new lover consumed by fire
reflects only love, while in the darkness below
crabs scuttle among her secret ruins.
Some fathom the reach’s riddle—
the fisherman whose gear snags
suddenly, the snapped line leaving
the lure flickering
from a splinter of rib, enticing the fish
to visit her lonely bones;
the scientist whose instruments expose
the misfortune of her solitude,
her presence only an echo
like the slap of salt-worn sails reaching
upriver, port-town bound and content
to skim upon the glass, so close
to home. We find it impossible,
the glimmering sway of the river,
the tidal constancy of its breath.
We cannot help ourselves,
imprudent lovers who grow restless
at our ceaseless reflection, and so we dive
beneath the mirror, and drown in the wreckage
of secrets that this river has always known
are best left hidden within the reach.
–Wendy Mitman Clarke M’16, Director of College Communications