At the River by Mara Lemanis

At the River by Mara Lemanis


At the River


We gathered at the river

on the banks we spread our bed

plucked wild geranium

blue phlox, rhododendron,

to make sweet our bed

"You look like a river god,"

you burst out on our garden bed

limbs tense,

as buttocks rose and fell

as inner clocks climbed fast

to reach the pitch of noon

gathering at the river


And it rushed in

leaped across our bed

streamed over the fields beyond

pulling me down mid-current

the fiercest channel, irresistible

I felt it eddy round my head

like a massage

before the current leaped back

to flush me out

to fling me forward,

aerating my trunk;

I know this fountainhead

it is my birthmark

the natal sea

of my corporal being

reclaiming me

I feel nothing but

the downstream flush of the river

pushing through

riffling sinews like limp buoys

lifting me, a boneless reef

racing downstream


A floodplain fills the opposite shore;

rows of maples gone,

the top of a lone willow

peering out, tendrils

sweeping the tidal skin,

rows of vegetation

grapes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes gone,

dismembered fruit braving the undertow

bobbing around the surface flow

shining like sunbathers

as they sink;

the shore invisible now

all saturated floodplain

crops drowned, silt drained

unlike the ancient Nile,

banks graciously furrowed

to welcome silt,

plant succulent dates, figs, mangoes

maize, barley, cotton,

nor like the great Mississippi floodplain

tending wheat, rice, omnivorous cotton,

filling parched ground

like a colossal chrysalis ripening the earth


I sense a drop in density

the floodplain dwindles;

crowding my path

loom steep embankments,

crusted, dry,

I churn into a sluice;

cast out upon a ridge a flounder

fans faint gills as if still gliding under water;

limp remnants of raccoons and muskrats

lie tossed above their native shores;

and the outline of a big-mouthed bass

lies stiff, scales matted in a grill of bones;


Quickly all slows

river gills barely flutter

all is dull, dark;

I feel a slippery husk encase me

the current balks, halts

the banks on either side glare black as dirges;

if I could peel my husk and reach them

from my stagnant bed

I would not climb their deadened ramps;

benumbed, I barely move

limbs ebb from me like oily stumps

could I rear up, I would stir these stumps,

stand up and skate upon

the grim porridge;

A gurgle rises

a stream bolts down the cliffs,

cuts across the swamp

and moves me like a sand bar;

I am rushing again

my gills have closed

the river is in my lungs;


A gulf opens wide

a barrier reef beckons

lobelia, mistflowers, wild columbine

rise on its grassy mound

I reach out to pluck them

but get pushed fast

hurtling over rapids

pulsing toward a broad basin

rippled like a surfing sea;


Far shores ring thick green forests

sycamore, cottonwoods, ash

slaked by groundwater

sponged from the river

as it shed its girth;

The smell of citrus drifts across

another reef springs tall

with hammocks of live oak and hickory

braiding canopies above bright orange trees

scenting the air;

I could cast out and rest here

I could make home here

on fragrant shores;


The river narrows

cliffs rise like palisades

the sky inhales the river,

waterlogged, my oxygen reserves,

my hydrogen, nitrogen

husbanded the river

when I reached noon on its banks;

I scatter phosphorous and nitrogen

to grow the algae that will slow my flow

I am the river's heart

arteries pumping over parched lands

slaking sterile soil with my blood

I will flow where I must

I will slow where I must

when dams stanch my will


In the distance the sky glows red

I'm streaming toward an island;

an uprooted tamarind is burning

its branches fall past the flattened ridge

blistering the water

the wind blows sparks

that blaze across the shoreline

steam clots the air

the water boils

my lungs grow heavy and contract

fire licks my surf

soars to evaporate me

or choke me with ash


I am destined for dominion

my loins beget the current

I pour myself into the ravening flames

I sink brimstone inside wide calderas

I gather the land

unto myself

and leave a fruited plain

for all that quickens

all that gathers at the river.


Mara Lemanis