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A solitary autumn leaf rustles on a tree.
Slowly, gracefully it floats down, twirling,
silently meeting the dense dappled shimmer
of still water.

Overhead, distant vees of geese appear.
Their faint raucous cries float on a soft breeze.
Sticks weave around rocks to form
warm tables where turtles sunbathe languidly
Dragonflies swoop and hover like sylphs
admiring their likenesses in the mirroring water.
Lithe water striders skate across the skin of the canal.
Schools of sinuous minnows flit like brown shadows
below. Salamanders crawl over the slippery logs
submerged under thick algae and creep away

The green lacewings buzz perpetually among the reeds.
Swamp roses clustered by the bank
sway delicately in clumps of switchgrass.
Mingled jewelweed and loosestrife nod to passersby
People fish, jog, ride bicycles,
alone or in couples or in families.

I trudge on the dusty path past
a child casting a line into the hazy water.
He pulls a fish flipping and gasping from the murky depths.
The child's father congratulates him,
and the fish's life
slips away

Soda cans, rusty metal shards, plastic bottles, old tires
are strewn among the brambles.
The transfixing image doubles itself on the water,
distorted here and there by a dead branch hovering low
or a grimy plastic bag caught in weeds at the water's edge.

The placid mirror reflects it all.
The river flows on, around snarls of fallen trees
trailing skeletal gray fingers in the water.
Two boys doubling on a single bike, one on the handlebars,
ride by me. Their heads swivel to stare.
They mutter something harsh.
Cars judder over the looming bridge
like distant thunder.

The Canal Towpath Near Sand Island on a September Afternoon Rory Lipkis
Rory Lipkis, 9
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania