Harrisburg, PA, in the Night
by Julene Waffle
The city crawls out from under the hills,
sprawling, tempered, reposing under the cool autumn sky.
From valley edge to valley edge,
it waits for something to happen.
Underpass sighs the passing traffic.
I breathe it in: frictioned tires, exhaust, catalytic sulfur.
Highways circle, rhythmic rumbling above,
Scribbling misty messages that blink before being read.
Susquehanna cuts cliffs in valley walls.
Its expanse bridged, wide armed, and amputated.
Harrisburg, Marysville, Summerdale,
Enola Rail Yard, lucky girl,
happier with her rust-bellied
cargo containers than other Enolas.
I’m here below the center of an almost perfect
four-leafed clover for this brief moment,
in the middle of motion, anticipation, and cars, and go,
but I’d much rather be sitting, hidden in the wild,
in the tawny pampas grass that bends in highway winds
like full-bellied-lions, tails on end flicking,
at the edges of the road or backwaters of the Susquehanna.
PHOTO: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, skyline on the Susquehanna River, with the Capitol dome in the background. The Pennsylvania State Capitol was designed by architect Joseph Miller Huston in 1902 and completed in 1906 in a Beaux-Arts style with decorative Renaissance themes throughout. Pennsylvania’s seat of government was originally in Philadelphia, then relocated to Lancaster in 1799, and finally to Harrisburg in 1812. The current building is the third state capitol built in Harrisburg. Photo by Sean Pavone, used by permission.
NOTE: Harrisburg is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with a population of 49,271. The city lies on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, 107 miles west of Philadelphia. In 2019, the Harrisburg metropolitan area had an estimated population of 577,941. Directly to the north of Harrisburg is the Blue Mountain ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The Cumberland Valley lies directly to the west and the fertile Lebanon Valley lies to the east. Harrisburg is the northern fringe of the historic Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In 2010 Forbes rated Harrisburg as the second best place in the U.S. to raise a family.
NOTE: The Susquehanna River, at 444 miles long, is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. The Susquehanna forms from two main branches: the North Branch, which rises in Cooperstown, New York, and is regarded by federal mapmakers as the main branch or headwaters, and the West Branch, which rises in western Pennsylvania and joins the main branch near Northumberland in central Pennsylvania. The river empties into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay at Perryville and Havre de Grace, Maryland.
PHOTO: The Susquehanna River, Asylum Township, Bradford County, as seen from the Marie Antoinette Lookout off of US Route 6 near Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired by a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that my family and I took in 2018. We drove there. I was struck by the fact that I loved my Upstate New York home and the fact that the Susquehanna River started near my hometown and traveled 444 miles south.
PHOTO: Main Branch Susquehanna River (in foreground), which rises at the outlet of Otsego Lake (in background) in Cooperstown, New York. Photo by Tripp155, used by permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julene Waffle is a teacher in a rural New York State public school, a business owner, a wife, a mother of three boys, and writer. She has degrees from Hartwick College and Binghamton University. Her work has appeared in The Daily Star, The English Journal, The English Record, River, Blood, and Corn: Literary Journal, A Community of Voices, plus anthologies of poetry entitled Planet in Crisis (FootHills Publishing, 2020) and Seeing Things: Anthology of Poetry (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020), and a chapbook So I Will Remember (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020). She finds inspiration in nature and her family, which includes her dogs. Visit her at wafflepoetry.com and on Twitter @JuleneWaffle.