100,000 blades of grass
woven, in berm
of sod and soil—
behind the river’s rasp.
I know some lonely houses off the road
and odd scraps of people, a guidebook
told in installments. The few souls
that remain after families broke
and scattered like the spray made
by that child on the rise of a hill
blowing the heads off dandelions.
The rise could be the hill you slid
down during winter’s wheeze
or where kites launched
along its top in warmer breezes.
But it is only berm
and barrier, it is the edge
that holds the clouds’ chalk
wing on water
between line and drown.
River is within, the backbone of this whale
a large bow on which to bask, churn a white
stream back towards the sea.
The earth is sea, the earth is flood.
Broad and blank, its circulatory flows,
in rain, in fury, if the river is within.
the tearing surge
the menace in caress
the pulled together
the drawn ashore
the chum left sinking
To raise the river’s prayer to its god. The look behind, over shoulders, eye primitive fear, only barely prayable prayer of ascension. Like the poor man’s river with its cargo of the dead.
When the river is a foot in blackened ice
and the stark bones of its tree banks shiver,
I’ll caw over the mistakes I’ve made.
Concede what my high water carried from backyards.
Allow the salvages to spill from graceless height.
I may even nod to the fault line I muted.
While a slow groan of ice and mortification flay
its way back into muddy water, I’ll tell the crows
in frozen blue-eyed grass fields to fly south.
The river is a beautiful place to be born
if you don’t mind the deep aperture
of shadow when the day is sun and light.
Or to live in close confines with unruly force.
Know the surge to wash, change course, abandon
the prosperous kingdom. This ground swell,
unattached in its devotion, ends just as it begins.
Hallelujah to the watching and waiting. Its rhythm
under every front porch and each nursery crib.
Sunday up the river
a sinking man rises
three times to face the skies
to leap, splashless, land
as others flow past
root and rip and rock,
past tabernacle or tomb,
in the margins of strip and baptize
by the great waters of the West
and some fish’s catacomb.
Most of what I know abides
in stories at the waterline, pitiless
as drowning without a rise of sound
with only a gaze of blank embankment.
Being last to mark this river’s crime.
I cast more strength than I possess
I hold no branch, offer no outstretched
embrace. This arm is artery, not limb—
its pulses sweep and ferry sand
or lands, or hearts and hands.
I stand stalwart. No doubt it plots
a watery furrow towards a marsh.
My sight hindered in steel and bolts
I’ll listen as it rushes for a mouth
in which to shoal the loss.
Head for cover
head for bent hills
hills and old valleys
hills of carbon
carbon and coffee
copies are gone
copies were flotsam
floating the covert
float the Valley Authority says
said, now mine
said, now bury
bury the news
bury a Tennessee town
town in black
town in half-ass piles
piles of heedless coal
piles lathered not raised.
Riprap. The life line of significant soil. Against scour. In pews.
What the Bible said about floods is true.
See the survival of blood and currents,
the protein of fertility pooled at feet.
Follow the trickle through the bed
of gray lovers, lifting each other’s stone.
A sad heave, like the men in black boots
who sandbag on grass hills, futile marshes,
who rise and move away from the breath
of a heavy sleeper left dreaming of floods,
and who never question the two AM drive,
to bank at the river’s edge, to simply die.
I lead a quiet life now,
buffering the meadows from madness
forgetting fields lost along the river run
humming to myself how life never dies.
In the true north of my introspection
birds are bearing fish
fish will bear messages
messages bare nothing but bones.
As the river writhes away
I’ll halt the sluicing of seas
that devours America.