Saturday, 7 November 2020

Where the River Used to Run 

by Katherine West

It started in her foot
as if she had
on a rusty nail
a horse
badly shod
with lockjaw--
we watched
as she limped
from place to place
head down
hair in her face
Then she stopped
until her vertebrae
could be counted
Then she laid herself down
in the dirt
and the dung
and closed her eyes

The moon was one day
short of full
The buff-colored owl
in the naked willows
by the river
the cold settled into the valley
like a dead lover
but we didn't sleep
we waited
without a fire
and when the moon
reached the top of the sky
they arrived
rising right out of the ground
around her
like vapor
from a swamp
they rose
until they stood tall
and beautiful
as she used to be
dark eyes
long hair
like hers

The moon loved them
gave them light
and shadow
as if they were real
the way the cottonwoods were real
their sad
across the dirt
to where she lay
as if they could wake
not sleeping
not light
not shadow
a thing of the past
we began to forget

until you
only you
revealed yourself
and solid
as the trunk of an oak
blocking the moon
so completely
except you
and the wound
lying at your feet
not sleeping
not waiting
eyes now opened

I never saw what happened
never saw you move
How could you
rooted as you were?
I never saw her rise
How could she
weak as she was?
But the next day
when the sun
took the place of the moon
there were two oaks
where there used to be one
and a hundred horses
where the river used to run

* * * * *

Katherine West lives in Southwest New Mexico, near the Gila Wilderness, where she writes poetry about the soul-importance of wilderness and performs it with her musician husband, Yaakov. She has written three collections of poetry: The Bone TrainScimitar Dreams, and Riddle, as well as one novel, Lion Tamer. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as LalitambaBombay Gin, and New Verse News, which recently nominated her poem And Then the Sky for a Pushcart Prize.