V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





On the bank of some river she waits,  
irresolute, near tears, hands around the sharp stick
of her fear, while the other horses slip
happily into the dark water
and her mother and sister encourage her to come
in.  Her horse is hot, she is hot, but she has seen horses roll

at the smell of mud and she can feel herself rolling
under the surface, the others waiting
too long for her to reappear before they come
down to get her, her feet stuck
in the stirrups, the water
filling her riding hat while she slips

quietly away forever.  It's no use telling her she will live,
                                                     her horse is a ship
that will not capsize with her on top.  She will roll
her eyes like some wild thing; she does not trust water
and never will.  She will wait
on the bank, rigid in her unhappiness, stuck.
Eventually the others will come

back, and they will not ask her to come
into the river again.  She has her reasons to slip
away from that confrontation: once, a horse stuck
in the deep mud riverbank had to be pulled out by tractor,
                                                    the giant tires rolling
heavily across leaves and roots while the horse waited
until he could get his footing and then scrambled desperately
                                                    out of the water.

Once she went down to play in the water
lapping the blacktop after a flood.  Tall weeds came
curling around her legs and though she whispered wait
it did not take the current long to slip
her far from the shallows.  Helpless fatigue rolled
through her while she stuck

her chin as high as it would go—her breath sticking
in her throat like water—
until at last her voice rolled
far enough along the surface and her mother came
striding out in her clothes.
                                     Don't say these things slip
into memory, fade, and are gone.  That girl I was knows
                                                    they wait

for you to forget, stick your foot in too far and then come
rushing up to claim you, pull you into the water and slip
their wet fingers into your hair, roll you forever
                                                    in a blanket of silt.

© by Katherine Riegel


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