I started thinking/writing about Scajaquada after a lunchtime trip to Forest Lawn in 2017. For decades, I’ve driven past and around it, admiring the ornate stone work, the rolling hills and immaculately kept grounds without ever visiting it. I was immediately drawn to the creek. I was surprised its water and fauna drowned out the surrounding city. Initially, I thought about the nostalgia of an imagined Olmstead’s Buffalo. As I learned more about the creek, it’s altered hydrology I focused on disregard of this small watershed as a metaphor for “our” land use policies. None of this seemed to capture what this formerly meandering creek sparked in me, so next I looked at the water, it’s defilement through the metaphor of baptism. Another dead end. I thought about the creek’s name and how the expressway made it metaphorically invisible. That led me to the Seneca and the son of the Seneca chief, who some say the creek is named after (some say it was named after his father) and the attempted erasure of the people who lived along its shores by coopting and disassociating its names. And that’s the path I’m on now with this creek and its 29 square mile watershed. Forty plus revisions later, at the very least it’s a study in tenacity. However, I’m still not completely comfortable talking about the creek through a language and culture that’s not my own. I’m also uncomfortable with the mechanics of the piece, where it calls for a performance and visual pieces. Never-mind though, I’ll follow it anyway. Time will tell, where it goes.


deyohgwa’, deyohgwa’, deyohgwa’
topping expansion joints
rubber over steel – freeway’s heartbeat

looking out the window – Scajaquada
a word I knew since I could ride in back
more than a Buffalo word that sets us apart – deyohgwa’
more than an expressway that segregates and divides – deyohgwa’
more than a stream that drains and dumps – deyohgwa’
more than a street that doubles as a headstone – deyohgwa’

nearing the bank the smell of sewage and industrial waste is thick
the streamflow unimpeded by the broken boom at the mouth of the giant culvert

four miles underground — burying a century of misdeeds
entering the cemetery — it still flows like water
still flowing over 400 million year old dolomite
still carving Serenity Falls — undisturbed only here
not channeled
not tunneled
not until middle age did I visit Forest Lawn

sitting creek side the call of water and wildlife
drown out the city
below in Moffett’s Grove, the last parcel to receive the dead
two young sunbathers in appropriately black bikinis
recline safely away from the leer of living men
with only male finches and cicadas within earshot
wrapping ‘round the girls, the creek quietly descends

Only surfaced for a mile, life still manages
grass carp, watgá’steowe:s
covers in mud sounds so much better than bottom feeder
sparrows, black birds and so      many      geese.    then
again diverted under the old Gala Waters
because it’s too polluted for park goers

I pick up the trail beyond the park
past the remaining glory of the Expo
and the decades of reclamation attempts
until I’m under concrete mangroves
and I’m carried back by the call of migrating cars overhead

past piers, girders and deck – deyohgwa’
past the smelting flame of the iron works –deyohgwa’
past the whir, grind, dust of sawmills – deyohgwa’
past the putrid mountain of refuse – deyohgwa’
past those foraging for pickings

we always seem to find the resources to create MORE
past the shipyards and the mighty masts rising like trees – deyohgwa’

I watch the forest settle back into the earth
swaying with the wind, grasses buffer the creek’s edge
it seems calm as it forgets its future
at the mouth in the distance
smoke rises from longhouses
girls schucking and shelling corn
old women weaving baskets in the shade
tanned skins drying by air
and as the white man sees it
like his father’s father, Philip Conjockety
lives creekside with his family

entertaining settlers
pioneers believe him
the oldest living man
retelling tales of nations and explorers
weaving stories of his father the last of the Kah Kwa
a chief among the Seneca — felled by fire water

the maiden of the mist who warned her people
of the poisonous glacial serpent that drove them from their ancestral lands
that created the Horseshoe Falls and forced the gods to the sky
now he would abandoned his family lands
abandoning cornfields to brownfields
M2 – General     Industrial      District
benzene, toluene, xylene, lead, cyanide, and PCB’s
as history leaches back into the creek bed
and settles in the flesh of wildlife

I turn back at the sign that warns
“be safe walk with a friend”
a small bronze plaque reads
Commodore Perry named the creek after the noble elder
by his Seneca name ska-dyoh-gwa-deh
 “beyond the multitude”

above the mangrove piers rubber and steel echo
timed right it’s a quick route out of the city
fast enough to ignore the creek that languishes below – deyohgwa’
fast enough to forget the appropriation of Seneca land – deyohgwa’
fast enough to excuse the legacy of industrialization – deyohgwa’
fast enough to hide the homeless – deyohgwa’
fast enough to beat the rush


Scajaquada (skuh-JA-qua-duh)
deyohgwa’ (day-yoh-gwah!)
watgá’steowe:s (waw-tgawh!-stay-oh-ways)

© 2017-2021 Brian Brown-Cashdollar