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River Traffic The great rivers roll on their way to the sea. And young men and boys ride on flat-bottomed boats That carry great cargoes of lumber and wheat To farms and the markets in blistering heat In America’s South where the boats sell their loads. The crews leave their houses in states like Kentucky. They shepherd their wares through the rapids and floods Of powerful rivers that splash, cut, and seethe With dangerous snags, many made of drowned trees, That the boatmen must watch for to protect their goods. Their hope: to make money to carry back home Once their barges slide into the huge Mississippi From other great rivers, such as the Ohio. It joins in the Father of Waters that flows Without stopping, eternal and free, And carries the boatmen on slivers of foam. These slide to its surface from eddies beneath The broad brown body of water and suspended loam Carried light in its mass, never to roam Past the banks that have grown over long centuries The boatmen are cautious, aware of its power. They steer themselves well as the towns slide away, Making some sigh and long for the white, standing towers. They mark each community and ring out the hour In some but in others have nothing to say. When the river is calm it is soft as a bower. But when it is angry – swollen with danger – Then sometimes the minutes can turn into hours. The men on its surface are scared of its power. They know that the river is always a stranger. But people need commerce, and the river's a free Way to move our goods from place to place. No one says, "Stop! Wait and see Who owns this broad highway. Is it you or me?" The river just laughs as it flows past your face. The long winding roads that all lead to the sea Sing their songs of far places, of forests and plains, Of mountains that swell beneath jackets of trees, Of icy sharp ridges and snow-covered peaks, And water, sweet water, from life-giving rains.