The Ancient Modern

Nile  /  Joshua Alan Sturgill

If the river is a god, 
it will be both: river and god, 
water and teacher, 
servant and theophany.  

If the river is a god, it purifies 
because it first receives 
a sacrifice of gratitude.  But 
if the river is only river, 

who will object
when it is blasphemed, 
called mere matter 
a resource, a solvent?  

If the river is a god, we fear it
but we bless it, too: imitating rivers 
in our poetry, anticipating 
rivers in our blood.

If the river is thing, 
disputed, possessed and 
dammed, it no longer washes 
or nourishes us. Instead, it leaves

on stones and in our mouths 
an acrid stain, rising and falling 
each season 
less holy and less pure

All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2021 by Joshua Alan Sturgill. All rights reserved.

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