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The River

The River

the river

by Kathy Nelson

again and again my mother
                         her birthday her death day
            every year
she pronounced me strange for asking
why there were no photographs
                         of her wedding to my father
            dwelling on the past
or why after he died all the photos of him
            as though
                         he never existed as though
I myself should never have been born

the swollen current sounds like distant traffic
                         the swallow and slosh
            near the bank

on the few boulders left unsubmerged
            geese groom
                         they turn their elegant necks
            to the undersides of wings
                                      opened like blades

bare-chested boys in yellow and orange kayaks
                         whoop and wave their paddles
            geese boys float together downriver
                                      beyond my commentary
the strangeness of a river
                         turned brown by summer rains
            the unfathomable silences
                         between mothers and daughters

around the bend the boys bellow
            a heron
                         or a colony of turtles
            if they petition their earthly gods
                                      if they beckon thus
the spirits of animals is it
                         because they grieve
            but have no words for it

Kathy Nelson, 2019 recipient of the James Dickey Prize (Five Points, A Journal of Literature and Art) and twice a Pushcart nominee, is a graduate of the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. In addition to her two chapbooks, Cattails and Whose Names Have Slipped Away, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, LEON Literary Journal, New Ohio Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Twelve Mile Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review and elsewhere.