Arts & Culture / Convergence / Politics / The Reading Room / Vol. 1 No. 1

The Hudson River: An Autobiography

The Hudson River

Image Credit: Charles Frederick,
Ideologies of Eden
, 2014.

PART I: Muheakantuck

Much earlier, for some thousands of years, there lived here the Lenni Lenape people, “the true people,” thought to be the eldest and who were given deference among other Algonkian speaking peoples of the forest civilizations. They are the first settlers and hence the ancestors of all who follow. They called this land, Lenapehoking. The Lenape, like all else who have been here, hunted and fished, grew corn, beans and squash, peppers and tomatoes. They held land and their tribal governance in common and observed spiritual balance throughout what in the current era we stumble in our uncertainty and call the ecosphere (and they called, simply, the world), where all that exists, human, flora and fauna, tree and rock, earth and air and water, the energies in flux, is equal, all animated and significant, numinous with the mystery of being. They named our river, Muhheakantuck, the river which flows both ways.

We cannot know what their civilization might have accomplished from these beginnings. Once the Europeans invaded, the Lenape people also became the first to be evicted from this land. They were attacked by disease and war and were forced westward, dwindling, small settlements breaking off over their path, broken treaty after broken treaty–so many failed promises. The Lenape moved over territory after territory, state by state, until they were largely relocated in what is now Ontario, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. Dispersion, exile from a home: a story told and retold in Lenapehoking ever since the land, seized by the Europeans, instead became property, when exchange and profit value were enforced to supercede the values of common heritage, responsible stewardship, its beauty, and the pleasure of the people who called it home.

The Ramapo Lenapes, the people of the slanted rock, continue to inhabit the hills bearing the same name near the Hudson River just above Manhattan Island–known to the Lenni Lenape as Mannahatta, land of many hills. These people have never left, although they have been declared extinct or often reviled with the pariah name, Jackson Whites, which comes from Jacks (African Americans) and (poor) Whites, all people, new and old, living with one another in the hills, mountains, on the river, and elsewhere in these lands around the Hudson, some in flight from slavery, some from the king’s laws and indenture, all who with the original Lenni Lenape are outlaws from the rulers’ categories, becoming our own new community in history, among whom someday the promises will be fulfilled. There are many stories to how there became this mix of peoples in the area. But we are all here. It is a submerged history, until the day when it no longer is.


For a long time, I have no longer lived in the little towns along the lower Hudson River where I was born and grew up. I now live on the island at its very end, New York–with its almost forgotten direct geological connection via the River to the valley and hills north of it–the same land as far up as the Catskills. But there are reasons to return sometimes. I go on some holidays, to weddings, funerals. A few years ago I attended a memorial mass for my grandmother, on what would have been her birthday. I arrived the night before and I stayed with a young relative. Grace was then about twenty, unwed, and pregnant. She lived alone, surviving on public assistance. In nearby buildings, however, in similar living conditions, other members of the extended family rented apartments, some, tenants there for decades, now old and poor instead of young and poor. It is the run-down part of the town. What once was poor white and black people became increasingly poor Latino–Puertoricaño and Dominican (Taino, Caribe, Castellano, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa…). There, the people live in volatile, tightly packed crowds pushed down to the edge of the town, next to the river. That July night I stayed over, it was infernally hot. With so many people in one place, there is no room for air. The river had become too polluted to use for safe swimming, and anger in this heat compacts.

About midnight, I was sitting in a chair next to a window in the front room of the apartment which was on the second floor, flat against the street. I was reading a book of radical political essays. Citizen of this place, I felt invaded by melancholy. I turned to look out the window, looking on the street. Under the streetlights teenage Latino boys had forced open the hydrants, and the water was erupting from all corners in alarming floods. The men were young and beautiful. They looked strong, sensually powerful. My eyes blurred from the pressure of my lust for them. They had abandoned themselves to their wrestling with one another in spouts of water, trying to cool themselves, to get relief from the heat. They had flung off their shirts and so they were left wearing only running shorts, swimsuits and underwear. Their water drenched shorts and swimsuits made them naked in the streetlights. I could see clearly how their cocks fell and hung against their legs. They grabbed at each other’s bodies and, slipping in the puddles, threw each other to the ground. Their brief trunks were often carelessly pulled down from their waists in their mock struggles, showing for me the forbidden bushes of hair at the beginning of their naked groins and the crests of the round mounds of their asses, the water in the intermittent blue white illumination in the black night making slick and gleaming their many hues of brown skin. They continued to play in the water for most of the night while I watched sometimes, and returned to my book sometimes. No one slept that night. The feeling of melancholy never left me. (And all the colors/ todos los colores/ are of earth and fire/ la tierra y el fuego.)


Chaos is quick to spill
from us, water from a broken grail,

our people here are abandoned,
fenced/ within menageries of the poor

(my blood/hot with toxic rage

my head yanked back
in a police grip/ my

throat bared
to the beak of the eagle).

Some among us
murmur the wish

to escape this life/ with death,
others just wait,

drugged, dull and drunk, /
until finally/ it’s over.

The bones of my feet
are shattered,

so I cannot flee
tonight/ with You/ to Paradise.

And in the dark, exhausted
from work or lack of work,
our brawls and our quarrels,

the we-the-people drop:
–our souls/steel coiled and cobra taut–

without the room,
if we even imagined it ,
to lie alone/ in thought

(to wonder,
beyond where we are).
Slippery with wrestlers’ sweat,
unknown to one another,

we pin each other down,
–to sleep–

But then an arm,
emerging from a dream,

becomes a weapon;
and we target those

we might have wished
instead/ just to hold.

* * * * *

At dawn,
never looking

in anyone’s eyes
for a mirror,

haphazardly, I
seal my mouth

my neighbor’s lips;

when standing up
for my day,

–so close to him–

there is no choice
but to kiss:

and our tongues/ ruthlessly,
             anonymously thrust/ in restless sleep,/

when awakening,/ our eyes closed,
             senses bewilding/ arms and head

lock holds/cleaving/
             breast to heaving breast/

Here/ in such
promiscuous congestion/

even the smallest
motions of living

carelessly enact/
both love and violence,

and when I open my lungs,
drawing in this muggy/ summer’s air,

I wrench away/
someone else’s breath.

In such delirium
of unavoidable embrace,

             we are marauders

on prohibited/each other’s
             avenues of dreams,

breaking and entering,
we steal/ each other’s lives.

(And no one else/ but you
will I ever/ so fiercely love)

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