Four Rivers

Visiting friends in Philadelphia last month, I had occasion to drive across the Delaware River and was reminded of a relaxing afternoon I spent in an inner tube in this river nearly two years ago. 

I wrote about the experience in my 5782 Rosh Hashanah Message in the Atlanta Jewish Times: “Riding the gentle rapids of the Delaware, I’m reminded of four rivers in Genesis—the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates—flowing forth from the river in the Garden of Eden and watering the surface of the earth.”

While I’m still thinking about the four rivers flowing forth from the Garden of Eden, I’m more focused on the way we humans strive to tame the rivers that run through our cities. 

An opportunity to reflect on the river to which I have the strongest attachment arose in a recent Spiritual Poetry Writing class. We read Poet Laureate Carl Phillips’ poem titled “And If I Fall,” and I was inspired to write a nostalgic poem about the Hudson River that you’re invited to read (below).  

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Still ruminating about the way these two rivers float inside my mind, I found another river that took hold of my imagination. In her prose poem about the Colorado River, Natalie Diaz writes: 

“I carry a river. It is who I am: ‘Aha Makav. This is not metaphor…‘Aha Makav is the true name of our people, given to us by our Creator who loosed the river from the earth and built it into our living bodies. Translated into English, ‘Aha Makav means the river runs through the middle of our body, the same way it runs through the middle of our land.” (from “The First Water is the Body,” excerpted in Emergence Magazine)

It has been decades since I took a trip along the mighty rapids of the Colorado River, and I was saddened to learn from Diaz’s piece that it is now the most endangered river in the United States.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

To these three rivers, I add a fourth: the Seine. For five glorious days, I traveled along this river, admiring the buildings and walking the pathways constructed along its shores, crossing bridges and marveling at monuments.

La Seine

I’m smitten by your 

green waters and the bridges 

connecting your shores. 

A dozen rivers I have known and loved: Raritan, Schuylkill, Hudson, Harlem, Delaware, Chattahoochee, Colorado, Chicago, Tennessee, St. John’s, Jordan River and La Seine.

I’ve probably missed a few…

No, I didn’t forget the East River, which isn’t really a river, or the Connecticut, which I’ve seen but haven’t personally encountered in ways I have the others listed above. 

I wonder: What rivers are important to you? 

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Riverside (after Carl Phillips)

There is a river in my head,

I keep imagining it:



rise up from rushing waters,

reaching toward the heavens’ edge,

their foliage—sparkling red, orange, and

yellow—a kaleidoscope reflection

floats atop

the river that’s in my head.

I keep imagining it,

the scene where I am standing Riverside,

gazing at my past, heart beating wildly.


There is a river, in my head,

I visit—to remember home.

—Pamela Jay Gottfried (May 2023)