Marianna Boncek


The construction of the Neversink [Reservoir], begun March 18, 1941, led to the relocation of 1,500 people, forced to move from the villages of Bittersweet and Neversink. The village of Bittersweet was never relocated; it was lost forever.

~from the History of the Town of Neversink


And then the water came.

But before the coming of the water
were the towns;
Neversink and Bittersweet.

Neversink was moved
up the hill
to the flats,

but Bittersweet…

They seized
the post office,
the schoolhouse,
the homes, barns, churches,
They dug up the dead,
once promised eternal resting places.
They chopped down
the bittersweet with small green-white flowers,
strong, opportunistic vines growing everywhere.

And the berries,

the bittersweet berries.

I dreamt last night of the berries,
drowned deep,
seeping their bitterness into
the water destined for New York City.

It is the fourth time this month
the boy- faced officer says,
“Miss, you can’t be on this land.”
pointing to the posted signs.

But I’m looking for the bittersweet
among the man-planted pines. The pines
that stand in even, unnatural rows,
where once there were maple, oak, birches,
sassafras, quaking aspen, elm- even elm, damn it-
apple with cream-colored pink buds so sweet
you could taste the apple on your tongue
by just smelling the flower.

I am looking for the berries
on the ghosts of farm fences,
on the phantasms of barn sides,
in the specters of rolling meadows,
on apparitions of stolid white farmhouses.
I am looking for the memories, rooted
too deep to pull from the ground.
I follow the skeletal spine of stonewalls from the road
to the shore of the cold blueness

I show him the bucket, the bucket I bring
for the berries. I tell him of their
sweetness but the bitter aftertaste that shocks
leaving you bruised like a lover
who assaults after passion.

” Miss you can’t be on this land”

I pull from my breast pocket a black and white picture
I tore from a book in the library
of a girl in a white dress
standing in front of a white house
and a gray barn,
that is probably red.
“I’m looking for this girl. Do you
know her? Do you know where she lives?”

Later that night I will
dream of the wooden rope
vines crawling up the bedpost
around my neck
crushing my esophagus
leaving a bottomless pool of water
where brown trout swim.


I am walking in a dream-
but it is not my dream-
down a narrow paved road
through a verdant valley.
Dusty driveways lead to
white stoic farmhouses,
impassive barns.

The ardor here
is expressed in foliage:
joyous blossoms
tender shoots
determined dandelions
the aloofness of the rose
and of course,
the obsession of the bittersweet.

Crisp, clean air enters my lung
transforming to water
leaving a gargling noise in my
choking throat.

I awake in my bed
cold and shivering from the deluge.
From under my tongue
I pull a bittersweet berry.


The berries stay red in the winter
giving this valley the only color
it will have, besides the barns,
for six months.

In the January pruning of the orchards
the bittersweet vines are ripped from
the trunks of sweet apple, red tart cherry.

“Ain’t nothing to kill this vine. It’ll live ‘till the second comin’ a Christ.”

How could they have known about the greed for water?

In 1962, in an artificially heated office,
an impassive clerk will add selastrus scandens-
the American Bittersweet-
to the list of protected plant species.

Now there is no color in the valley
only barren blueness.