V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





Growing alongside each other at the low place
that often floods, the vulnerable spot
where water from the lagoon slips out

to meet the river, trees grip the trapezoid
of ground with riverwater moving
past, sinuously, to fill the pond. Between

the curve of bank and the road, they stand
grouped and also solitary, a gray,
spindly lot with deeply-furrowed bark,

two dozen or so of the fast-growing cottonwoods.
If the stories are true, of people
being tied to trees along rivers in another

country, people who were sick in their minds,
would the sounds here be enough
to soothe anyone ill? Or would they need

more rapidly falling water, gallons that pour
from pools thick with the shadows
of pike, or water chunked and grinding

with ice? When river-sounds wash over me
like the sounds of leaves, that blue-
green deciduous murmur, I could lie down here

on a blanket dappled by clouds, reverting
to childhood, or dream of last fall
ankle deep in leaves, when I envisioned

a dress knitted together from the delta shapes
of cottonwood leaves. Wearing it, I'd be
the trunk of a swaying thing, half-tree,

half-woman, leaf color changing day-to-day,
mood-to-mood, river stories of the past
soaking into me as the moisture wicks up

into the cottonwoods, how the hardwoods were felled
here, branded, floated down to mills or
set afire for potash, and riverboats churned

the waters with people singing on a summer day,
one couple clambering ashore to sit,
then sleep, leaning against a tree-trunk.

Old photographs show the so-called river-rat men
in vests, in hats, balancing on rafts of logs,
or next to literal mountains of trees in piles,

horses, sleds, and men dwarfed and looking straight
ahead, proud, somehow, that they could
destroy so much. By 1900, all the trees

were gone. The slate water takes on a grave-
stone gray, rushing toward the dam.
Nearby, if you listen with care, near dusk—

you'll hear alone the kingfisher's rattling cry,
before it plunges twenty feet straight
down, the water parting clean as bone.


© by Patricia Clark


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