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RIVERKILL

RIVERKILL

by Jessica Halsey

Copyright 2016

Shakespir Edition by Jessica Halsey

 

Cover design by Noel Nichols: http://www.noel-nichols.com.

 

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. It is yours. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Jessica Halsey is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jessica Halsey and Shakespir.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

CONTENTS

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND THANKS

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND THANKS

 

Previous versions of these fragments have previously appeared in The Camel Saloon and The Pitkin Review.

 

Extreme thanks to Noel Nichols for the beautiful cover, the visual representation of the road becoming a river.

 

Much appreciation also to the Goddard College MFA in Creative Writing faculty and staff of the Plainfield, VT campus, who supported me academically and emotionally through my graduate work. Special thanks to Kenny Fries, Bhanu Kapil, Elena Georgiou, and all the student services and financial aid staff.

ONE

I begin to write. I am writing. I am writing a poem for you.

I am writing a poem about you. In this moment, I am writing a poem about you.

A poem about what poppies do at night.

When their color—in darkness—cannot be seen without the thought or gesture of illumination. The desire to explore the

idea of what you do not know. Finding the thing you do not know.

I gesture toward the absence of light.

The absence of light makes a gesture of sliding across the highway as a fractal moving delicately across a map.

The absence of light blurs from a line that is not the road into the road.

The absence of light is a tangle of wildflowers that grow very fast parallel to the line of the road, I see the line of the road grow and I gesture toward it.

A pulse wakes in the quiet; locates the gesture and puts the light in its mouth. A mouthful shut up with eating (the creative mode of self preservation).

I do not believe in the muse. I believe in the pulse that eats the muse.

Air sizzles in the space above a body. I write a poem about the air too.

The road bleeds summer tar, gums road kill bones greedy and protective.

I pick at the remnants of the light and throw them to dance in the air, I write a poem about a free line in a free horizon.

There is perfection in the gristle stretching beyond the break that tastes like resurrection but really is body deconstructed and reimagined, traveling the road beyond death.

TWO

 

after a late-night thunderstorm

the wet moon hanging

in an empty sky

redly

like a peeled egg

and underneath

an oily membrane of poppies

on the water

tethered to the

latticed horizon

where a slimy heart slowly

rises to the surface

THREE

 

These are the notes of a circle.

A heavy wall of rain tumbles down onto the road.

The water writes over light, bone, the curve down and away where the weeping horizon bleeds over everyone who travels through. Look here, on the side of the road a body makes a beautiful arch— a bow—limbs twisted at angles unhinged and perfect for lashing power behind the arrow forcing it to fly long and far into the echo of something hitting a body and a body falling.

The broken hinge of a jaw yawns the wide horizontal line.

No other map will give you such a gesture of completeness or exist with more beauty but you might not notice if you don’t know how to look. Feathered nerves and ruptured blood vessels convulse under the morning frost. Beyond the broken body and the breath before the predicted rain lies the road.

To a voice it is fatigue; a hoarseness, the brittle corridor of space before the fever.

To the broken body it is nothing.

FOUR

 

we fall

on the red smear

where the edge

leaps out

claws the mountain

sharp flanks

caught

in the headlights

we have

no home

FIVE

 

A stretching out and a recoil; fingers curl in the humid air.

The words travel across the page in a folk song your voice bleeds sunset following the line down a drop of ink on your

tongue a body stumbles against the rumble strip a casualty of wandering and diesel fumes skinned haunches and shattered

nose point towards the ragweed the beginning of the line dresses itself in a drop of ink a hemorrhage here is the horizon

bleeding down generations of sunrises and sunsets light comes up light goes down when you lick the paper the road

allocates the flesh of the coyote absorbs blood bone and skin stretched to a fine film of light between the rumble strip and

the verge the road stretches out sniffs with a dead thing’s nose gulps rainwater through broken teeth—

SIX

 

Body: Where are you?

Car: Not where you think I am.

Body: Let’s go.

Car: About time.

Body: Sorry.

Car: Looks like rain.

Body: I’m fine.

Car: Slick road, what exists in your vast blankness?

Body: I’m fine.

Car: Does the road dream?

Body: I’m fine.

Car: I’d want to be something else if I was the road. Look at this shit. Construction for years.

Body: I’m fine.

Car: Slowly the traveling winter cracks a body hollow.

Body: I’m fine.

Car: Bright the ragweed on the side of the road, phosphorescent the light in the stone.

SEVEN

 

The body opens like the flapping wings of some lesser spotted underwater butterfly. The lungs fly away. The heart sinks

to the bottom whichisweirdbecauseIneeditnottolie.

Words do not always adopt the space of what they have become. They have to reinvent space. Reinvent the light that

illuminates the space.

EIGHT

My footsteps and the shuddering black scrawl peel back. The horizon languidly turns over. I don’t know how to mend a splintered jaw. I should carry super glue or duct tape bandaids with me everywhere but even if I do I know my remedy is useless.

Things that are severed should be easy—my voice paces at the end of a long, weed-choked corridor. You should reach out; I want you to reach out. Reach out with your fingers. I love your fingers. Pick at the ragweed tucked behind my ear with your reaching, lovely fingers. Pick at the paper spaced within these words. Or fold the paper, into eight rain-soaked squares; put it safe in your pocket. Or crumple it up and throw it in my face.

NINE

What is not a crumpled newspaper or rain soaked rag?

Whose natural habitat is a gutter or the corner of a yard closest to the street? What do you name a dead thing on the side of the road?

I stop when I reach the body,barely indistinguishable in color or dimension from the road.

It is two dimensional grey.

I kneel down on the sidewalk and pick up a lucky penny.

A
gravely exhalation.

A hiss.

The body’s eyes open.

The body lifts its head, pulls a paw under itself and flicks its tail.

Its breath smells like blood and wet wool
a mildewing jump between the frost
and the stagnant marsh winter paws down the liquefying road undulates.

TEN

That which is not carried off as food for other bodies slowly smashes against the unyielding surface.

The road lurches under my fingers like messy handwriting.

I reach out, the road cracks and there is no surface.

The road stretches. The road bursts its seams. The road does not like unstable foundations.

The river gives no warning. The river knows endurance. The river doesn’t care about unstable foundations, you, or your family. The river wants to sprawl. The river does not believe in stillness.

The roadriver views this alchemy as a mild inconvenience the necessary tithe of blood and pain before passage can be granted into the space where the horizon used to be

ELEVEN

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose all I lose all I lose all

I lose

I I I I

sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense sense

the

direction direction direction direction direction direction direction direction direction as direction direction direction direction

turns the turns the turns the turns the turns the turns

the river the river

turns the turns the turns the turns the turns the turns

as the
as the river as the river as the river as the river as the river as the river as the river

turns turns the turns the turns the turns the turns

TWELVE

The road stretches until the seams fill, the river laps at the concrete curious and fickle. When a road becomes a river it does not twist like light in a prism or as if by magic this is a new skin with water fibrous in this a memory of a tide shatter and remake itself hungry writhing rain perforates the small ungainly waves stretching across terrain that has forgotten what it means to be a river—but memory returns.

As the road becomes a river my car becomes a boat, water slides across the windshield, destroys the engine that is no longer needed. I want to reach through the crunching exoskeleton into the road pick up a stone, a ribcage rattles, submerged we lash against the murk.

To the staring eye of a dead fish I am distorted by the greasy film clotting the storm.

THIRTEEN

I push open the door; water moves around my boots, snuffles under the driver’s seat, smells of brinesewage.

I sometimes get the itch to be near the ocean but tonight it’s the river that’s scratching. My face wavers on the surface of the river. The frequency of my skin is unstable. Particles on the verge of flying apart.

The river unearths a legion of ghosts. Trees felled and flung far by the tornadoes skirting the edges of the marsh turn violently in their moist incubators of mud-under-bitumen and leap across the alchemical precipice.

On their way to wherever 5,000 blackbirds fall from the sky. Dead. No sign of trauma but that’s not true is it there is nothing soft about falling.

Their descent.

Their charcoal precision listless on the water.

FOURTEEN

Spinning in the current slapping the incredible, vain dream of the 20th century, the sodden alphabet. A levee breaks: death toll, 100 homes, a torrent of water into low-lying Friday, emergency safety net shredded.

In one neighborhood, bodies are stored in refrigerated trucks.

The road had waves gushing over it, black waves of birds, broken wings broken legs.

FIFTEEN

A clog of choking weeds caught in the russet dilapidation of train tracks. A pollywog’s choking cry made quiet.The tracks soak their oxidizing wounds in the river. A crackling shadow separates from the edge of the river and slowly rolls like a tumbleweed—all fibrous and whimsical—across my path.

The bulbous ghost of a train oozes onto the bank, slowly the hazy hand of a little boy snatching at the corner of my eye. In the haze the rural moon illuminates a glistening net that wavers ghostly in the heavy calm. The river laps gently now at the seams of an edge coiled with barbed wire, so close. The boy scampers away with his pollywog.

From the train a trembling rumble of syllabic repetition. Words? Thunder?

SIXTEEN

My voice is a blackbird’s bedraggled body floating on the surface of the river, not quite swimming with the current. A blackbird’s body balanced on the edge of a translucent skin pecked by rain and the muffled silence of the undertow.

I walk through the river. Trip over stones and garbage. Muddy detritus of the flood smears my footsteps until I reach the deep and can tread water (each particle dislodges and floats away from me down and away).

The eddies and little waves by my thrashing limbs make distortions in the whispering undertow. Morse Code: a soft texture. Dashes and dots identifying a body that might be me. Might be a small fish.

The water is quiet, heavy, and sharp, stinging like a bite or a piece of glass.

I open my mouth (O) and the floodwater swallows my voice.

I wave my arms but the water seals over my head with ease, no protest.

SEVENTEEN

I climb out of the river. Pace the narrow bank, foldunfold wet arms; sitdowncrossuncrossjumpup on wet legs. Rake wet finger through the grit caught in my hair. Yowl at the brumy air. A bestial complaint. I cut off my hair and put a match to it. A substantial blaze. For now. The smell of smoke and me burning. Warmth, the river’s curve. The clouds look like the smudges your face makes against my face but your face isn’t here to smudge against my face no glistening cloud membrane against my lips my cheekbones only the mud of this new riverbank—I attempt to fish: unravel the supple nerve from my right wrist and forearm. Slickness and pain like sticking my right hand into the mouth of an animal with sharp teeth; the mouth of a feral intruder. I do not need my right hand because I do not need it to write to you. You can take my right hand. You can take the nails too. The cracked (O) of my fingernail makes an ideal improvised fishhook. And so, I fish.

And those fish that I catch I string up and peel the words from their glistening scales.

EIGHTEEN

Alligator: Need a ride?

Body: No, thank you.

NINETEEN

I shed a few tears and congratulate myself. I want to be like the river.

I want to be strong.
I want to be strong without you.

Cast the line.

The cold river soothes the throb.

I can move my fingers.
I imagine that in spring or summer the heat would also be comfortable. I can bleed into the air.
I can ignore the fact that I am distracting myself with fishing.

I am fluid and swimming.

You can’t see my hand writing in the water. Darkness.
You can’t read my handwriting.

TWENTY

What has happened to the page? My page?

Write on it. Drop it. Write on it. Drop it. Write on it.

Drop it in the river in the river it in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river in the river

Drop it in the

Drop it in

Drop it

TWENTY-ONE

A stone can bring you luck until it leaves your hand.

IamimpossibleyouareimpossibleIloveyouimpossible

Still, I can say it: I love you.

I can make a gesture out of love. I can fly across the river.

I want to become a satellite with no fear of breaking. As the sun rises I am still walking. Indulging the now so long with me it is a primal need. Keep walking, always forward. I never deviate from this single minded direction into the light bleeding onto the horizon.

TWENTY-TWO

A body dragged luxuriously across the river’s surface.

Loose in the fingers of my right hand: a stone, restlessness. The bird that was folded around my heart is trying to claw its way out the bird sees the long corridor of my throat and is desperate to stretch How far can my voice carry? When I shout can you hear me on the opposite end of town?

TWENTY-THREE

Man: Can I give you a ride?

Body: No.

Man: Whatcha’ lookin’ at?

Body: A bird.

Man: Want me to shoot it down for you?

Body: No.


RIVERKILL

On a nameless road in a nameless rural town, Jessica Halsey presents a minimalist, irreverent quest for identity within the confines of a surreal landscape. A nameless traveler wanders the road and is swept away by a flood that transforms the road into a river. In this text, Halsey weaves poetry, prose fragments, and brief dialogues into illustrations of separation, love, grief and the gesture of letting go.

  • Author: Jessica Halsey
  • Published: 2016-04-30 19:20:09
  • Words: 2727
RIVERKILL RIVERKILL