You Might’ve Read of Rambling Rivers
but not the hydra sun casting sparks across
catshit and litter curling in the current,
catfish swollen stupid and sickly
on the dregs of coal sludge, their cold flesh
caught unable or unwanting to thrash free.
You might read of family picnics, fireworks
on the Fourth, maybe tragedies of lives lost.
When I was a boy my father told me about a boy
who taped milk jugs to his arms and crossing
drowned. Undercurrents, my father said.
I felt fear even without understanding.
We have emptied this land of meaning, but
the river remains, and it will stay awhile,
longer than us. It never needed meaning.
Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia
Cardiac days in the Hundred Acre Wood.
A sapling clings to a crag. Little birds,
deeper blues in a blue sky, delight across
impartial branches. Cards lean against
thick fingers, the Ohio lapping at a beach
more bottle caps and beer cans than sand.
When I was young I would thrust myself
through cornfields not mine, feet grinding
stone-pebbled mud until the blood hardened
to callous. At the riverside I'd watch barges
burdened with coal sloughing through sewage
slinking toward that fabling bridge, gray-green
myth of moth and rust and cracked car windows.
The sun brushed over this browbeaten town,
golden smears outcast among poorer paints.
In lightless dark the barges blazed red and blue,
earthborn stars bruising the water's surface.
I'd wake to spiderlines strumming in morning fog,
wonder wearing itself down in familiarity.
We'd go behind the church after Sunday School
to pluck honkeysuckle and taste each other after.
One summer our neighbor left the corn to rot,
the farmland bought up and turned to trailers.
With twine we knitted armor from the husks.
I've put my blood in that river, taken its poisons
into my flesh, frost-shivered hands fighting
to hold two bodies in one too-thin jacket,
finding each other in hair and cornsilk.
Stephen Pearson grew up in Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia and Franklin Furnace, Ohio. He currently lives in Ashland, Kentucky. He has published academic work on settler colonialism and regional identity politics in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal.