Cascadilla Creek

 

(This column was first published in the July 1, 2002 Buffalo News.)

 

Cascadilla Creek is a major stream that originates in the hills east of Ithaca, flows down through the city and finally empties into the south end of Cayuga Lake. The hills among which it originates have typical local-sounding names: Baker, Hungerford, Hunt, Snyder and Turkey; topped by a radio tower another is assigned the rather grandiose name, Mount Pleasant.

 

It is a lovely creek -- I recall passing it almost daily one summer when I taught at Cornell -- and it enjoys a delightfully euphonic name that does indeed trip lightly off the tongue.

 

An Ithaca poet, Zorika Petic, evidently thinks well of this stream too for she has titled a collection of her poems simply Cascadilla Creek. The 88-page volume is published by Kearsarge Mountain Books. I'm not a regular reader of poetry, but I found these verses charming and certainly befitting their attractive namesake.

 

Ms. Petic is an astute observer and recorder of nature in fragments like these, the first from "Child Half-Asleep on a Farmhouse Breeze":

 

I remember

sumacs

next to my window,

their antlers of

velvet and lace....

 

from "Summer Morning":

 

Three of us chase an amber

day into the valley,

to the basswood groves....

 

from "Spring Marsh":

 

Stars and a few raindrops

swim on the marsh.

Peeper bells ride the breeze....

 

And from "Star Genealogy":

 

Bent by the north

gusts, the starry

diamond hoots of

 

great horned owls.

Star oceans ebb and

 

flow on the

outer banks of earth....

 

She can also construct an interesting story. Here is her "Skinny Dipping":

 

Long ago

a friend and I skinny

dipped in a creek, because

the creek asked us to.

By a deserted railroad track.

The rumble grew closer,

and before we could modernize,

a freight train passed

within judgment.

The shame over nothing

had arrived;

we knew it and could laugh.

Louise is gone.

I can still turn to the scene

and draw from it

two young girls

in young water splashed

under a clean sky.

 

And here in her title poem the stream turns her thoughts inward:

 

On days I'm feeling modern, I throw a glance

at Cascadilla from the safety of my home.

To walk in faith beside it or dip my hand

 

into its life means leaving me behind,

maybe for the final trip.

Minus the shell

of thought, how do I keep from fusing

 

with the creek, its ripples scarcely concealing

the rainbowed yet nameless fish, the rocks

privy to millennia and still no word,

 

the feathery hard‑earned mud, the oak leaves

at the bottom adding their wine, the distillings

drawn as if by magnet away, until they among

countless theys merge at last with the lake.

 

What I found most remarkable about these beautiful poems is the fact that English is Ms. Petic's second language. Like Conrad, she embarrasses us with her ability to handle her adopted tongue. Here she tells us a little of her tragic childhood in "Going Alone to America After World War II":

 

A ship, or fragment of dream, carried us through

the enormous waves. Each person was alone.

My father gone, every relative except my mother;

my mother mostly gone. I sensed the divinity

that preceded green, when emptiness was its ruse....

 

I commend to you this lyric poet whose thoughts about nature and deep ideas are expressed in attractive and accessible verse.-- Gerry Rising


Note: Three additonal poems from Cascadilla Creek together with attractive illustrations are to be found at the Gloria Mundi Online Journal website. From there you can also find ordering information, if you choose to purchase this book through the web.