Does The Enoree River Remember Hans Einstein? (and other poems)

Does The Enoree River Remember Hans Einstein?

Albert Einstein’s son Hans worked as a hydrologist on a river near Greenville, SC. His research weir is still there in the river but reached only by canoe. 

                                                                 —for Dan Richter

Ask the scientist and the geopoet
in a small green fiberglass canoe
pulling over deadfall from
two miles upstream
to reach this altar to the past.

Ask woody debris, carbon storage,
wildlife bridges, a deer stampede, 
perplexed suburbanites lounging
on stream side.

Ask arrival by self-propulsion
to that hidden forgotten spot
on the river.

Ask Hans Einstein’s lab
built in 1930s, a research weir
for measuring sediment
bed load in the river.

Ask Einstein’s aged instrument
formed of Depression concrete.

Ask the thick river comb,
piano keys
the river plays for us.

Ask the formed shoots the current
drains through downstream
like a boulder garden.

Ask the scientist up to his knees drumming
on concrete with his paddle,
making wild river jazz.

Ask if an argument
can be made that sediment
is not something to understand.

Ask about eighty years measured
not in history but in floods and droughts.

Ask Einstein’s very artifact— 
approached by water on a late fall Sunday.

Ask Einstein’s concrete
Ozymandias cast on gneiss,
slick with algae,
yet still not yielding.

Ask decades of floods.

Ask the jet taking off
and landing at the nearby airport.

Ask poison ivy and greenbriar.

Ask the sweetgum snapped
by high water somewhere
upstream and strung
like a bow in current.

Ask cedars on the far side,
the only green.

Ask, hence, the last of fall color.

Ask Gibbs Shoals downstream stretching 
all the way to the Vietnamese Catholic church.

Ask the scientist’s tippy canoe
still upright like a fallen leaf.

Ask the schema we’ve brought along, a ghost
of the service to science
Einstein performed.

Ask his fluvial data stored off-site
in the National Archives.

Ask the territory.

Ask the mystery, these slab
fingers laid parallel
with slots for some contraption.
To control the flow?
Ask a flight of doves above.

The Worry-Oak

The storm is a retreating army, foraging
our hidden provisions. The worry-oak
roots are sodden oatmeal, not nourishing
ropes to climb to heaven, not the sinews
the worry-oak rides to eternity.

The roots snap in least wind
but we can’t hear them.
Instead we watch the hula dance 
above our rafters, thinking that is 
the big show. We gauge the gale 
of grievances weather pitches at 
us, mortal and secure in this 
thimble of human certainty we call 
a home. That stabbing music? 
Acorns tap dancing on the roof,
bound for a sodden yard where 
squirrels would mire in our acres
if they would abandon their 
huts of sticks high in the air.
They’ve made our mistake, 
thinking they can sleep it out,
nestled among a compost of 
insulting leaves, heir to what 
remains every fall of a proud
forest, a rainbow so striking 
that inside thumbtacks hold
the scene to our wall in places 
where trees are now two by fours,
ghosts of the beasts that threaten
our surety. Dawn is hours away. 
Rain pulls me from sheets made 
a nest by wear, but rising is not
enough to quell the fear the worry
oak outside our window will 
split our house in two, a sandwich
on the yard’s cutting board. First light.
I stare up into the dilemma of limbs.


  • John Lane is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies at Wofford College and was founding director of the college’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center. He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and prose. In 2014 he was inducted into the SC Academy of Authors. He, with his wife Betsy Teter, is one of the co-founders of Spartanburg’s Hub City Writers Project.

  • Bryan Buckley is a photographer and metal fabricator in Massachusetts.