Abstract art inspired by Los Angeles River
Art by Ryan Ward

‘Ode to the Los Angeles River’

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A poem from Mike the PoeT’s recently published “Letters To My City,” a book of poetry and essays dedicated to Los Angeles.

I sing of a River dammed, dumped, pumped and diverted;

I sing of a River they almost murdered.

I sing of a River the people forgot,

I sing of a River that flows from the rocks…

I sing of a River rushing from Mountain slopes,

snowmelt below Mt. Wilson, the mouth of the Arroyo.

I sing of a River where the shifting bottom of soft sedimentary sandstones

and clay mixes with gravel washed from seasonal runoff.

I sing of a River less celebrated than world waters,

still powerful enough to wash away a village.

I sing of a River that switched beds,

underground moisture in the watershed.

I sing of a River where much of the water

never reached the sea – forming marshes,

lagoons and mud flats.

I sing of a River with a huge underground reservoir

beneath the San Fernando Valley,

I sing of the River that built this city.

I sing of a River that provided life

for the Tongva Tribe. Later to be called

Gabrielinos, they lived amidst the willows,

edible berries and sycamore trees.

I sing of a River where steelhead

were hunted by grizzlies.

I sing of a River with an archipelago of birds, insects and tiny green particles,

foam bubbles, towering power lines, cottonwood trees, tadpoles and morning frogs.

I sing of a River where pelican’s songs echo off canyon walls.

I sing of a River unknown to many,

perhaps first seen in Grease or The Terminator,

I sing of a River that’s always been here.

I sing of a River with tributaries, like the Rio Hondo.

I sing of a River with a confluence in the Arroyo Seco.

I sing of a river weaving through crossroads

of freight rails and intersecting freeways.

I sing of a river below Metrolink and Gold Line trains.

I sing of a River with a bevy of bridges.

Merrill Butler built iconic bridges

in the City Beautiful tradition.

I sing of a River where 44 pobladores established the pueblo of Los Angeles

in 1781 at the Confluence in the name of Spain and King Carlos the Third.

I sing of a river that was here long before sig alerts.

I sing of a river before concrete, squatter camps and floating cans of beer.

I sing of a River paved in concrete by the Army Corp of Engineers.

I sing of a River resurrected one pocket park at a time.

Blades of grass breaking concrete,

riparian wetlands in the Compton Creek,

Oleanders in Atwater, re-instate the native garden!

Lewis MacAdams founded the Friends of the Los Angeles River

with the power of the word. Like John Kinsella says,

“Poems can stop bulldozers.”

I sing of a River where wetlands

and washes once dominated

witness the return of the watershed.

Los Angeleno