The River’s Rhythm Runs Through My Veins


Practice good hygiene, do what you are told, and never lose your temper.

Provide yourself when we are thirsty.

Give us food when we need it.

Carry us when we have places to go.

Look presentable.

The moment I realized I was the river is the moment I realized the river is queer.

A river is dynamic: always changing, evolving, flowing, growing.

The river provides us with water, of which we are three quarters. They tend to our crops, gifting us food and clothing. They nurture our trees, supplying clean air to breathe.

Water is the earth’s blood.

But water is channelized, dammed, buried: forced to behave civilly. We squeeze rivers with tall, stone walls. We build homes as close as possible, as if we do not know how they live.

When they lose their temper, storming down city streets and ripping the insides out of homes, it is a disaster. The walls get taller.

But the river never lost its temper. They are wild, unruly. When rain falls, the river swells. They sprawl across the land, spreading nutrients and sediments to the flora and fauna.

Urban rivers are punished for flooding. They are adulterated with chemicals and detritus.

This has been the case with Baltimore’s problem child: the Jones Falls River. Colonists settled along the river in 1661. By the end of the 18th century, engineers began their incessant river forcing projects. The adjacent marshes were drained for farmland. Canals were dug to straighten them out. Gabion walls were erected to keep them contained.

The Jones Falls River is as wild as they come. They have frequently flooded, pulling farm pesticides and animal feces downstream. By the mid 19th century, the river was rancid. Rather than giving the river their space and cleaning out the pollution, culverts were built. The river was swept under the rug: a move that was celebrated and monumentalized. Baltimore City Department of Public Works current Division Manager stands by this decision, calling it “the right decision at the time.” To this day the river cuts underground just south of North Avenue and does not daylight until it reaches the Port Discovery, the site of one of the river’s drained marshes.

Urban rivers and queerfolk share experiences of neglect, dismissal, and violence. They are not community members. If they were, they would be treated with love and acceptance. They are resources. Humans take from them what they want until they are depleted, and only celebrate them when they provide a service.

We must forget this.

Forget the idea of resources.

Forget the idea of roles.

Forget the idea of goods and services.

Burn these constructs from your memory.

Turn them to ash and smoke.

Allow the wind to carry them away.

Tell the river you love them.

Tell the river you accept them for who they are.

Tell the river that their rhythm runs through your veins.

And you through theirs.

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