No one knows what Susquehanna means in Algonquin, but they all have their guesses: “mile wide, footdeep,” “the long and crooked river.” As long as they keep pulling those smallmouth from me—gills fanned out like sails, a gloved thumb jammed in each cold bottom lip, olive-brown and shimmering in the long summer light—I don’t think they care much. Susquehanna: the ninety-first most beautiful word in the English language, flanked alphabetically by surreptitious, then susurrus. It never bothered me, my name bookended by suspicion. It’s all about what sounds nice, not what any of it means, isn’t that right? Then the District Attorney’s little red car, parked between two bridges over me, his cell phone placed neatly on the passenger’s side seat, his laptop destined for the Chesapeake Bay if not for washing up on my shores, waterlogged, sand between the keys, its guts ripped out like a fresh-caught carp. No matter what the speedometer says, it doesn’t make the miles any shorter. Even I can’t remember how many years it has taken to cut through this limestone and shale, to carve my way through sandstone and iron ore, to help draw the boundaries of a dozen counties, like my forking north between North Umberland and Union county lines, where this car was found, the owner who had calmly drifted from it untraced like wet foliage in my waters. It’s been over five years since he’s last been seen, but it’s easier to call him dead, because even if he comes back from wherever he’s been one can bet he’ll be a different person now. It has been said that one can never step into the same river twice. I disagree. People can change, but the world doesn’t—I sure don’t anymore, not in a way that counts. Anyone who has waded through me knows it’s the same green scales, the same flow south to the Atlantic, the same secrets hissing through my currents, rooted too deep for these shallow waters. I am a ragged wishbone; none of you have managed to split me open yet.
Lisa Mangini holds an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. She is the winner of the 2011 Connecticut Poetry Prize, and was named a semifinalist for the 2012 Codhill Press Chapbook Contest. Her work appears or is forthcoming in 2 Bridges Review, Knockout, Stone Highway Review, American Journal of Nursing, Louisiana Literature, and others. She is the founding editor of Paper Nautilus, and teaches English composition and creative writing at a handful of colleges across Connecticut.