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Barbara Edelman: The River

Trucks on either side of us like fists, like cities.

Steep green against the highway. Cows

and caved-in, slat-gray shanties

Someone hung her voice up on a hook.

Willows dip their limbs in the shallows

Shall we gather, shall we gather, shall we

Blue cracks in the plaster sky and

everything opening along the road:

violets, trillium, azalea, the guts of deer

have become one.

I’m not in my body yet, she said. As if without skin, she said.

Not solid.           Like

this, and she opened a book by a painter

who renders herself as skinless.

“How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat?” says the skeptic.

“Because I have two hands,” says the empiricist.

At the rest stop men are like trucks, their bulk set

smack in the center of the walk, enormous boots.

We have to cut among them              their talk

washes us like exhaust fumes.

Transparent. Fizzing into halves. Made of thin stuff that

splits and unravels.         Flaps.

So much darkness around it, so much mist.   Night woods

thick with the wing song of insects.     Wide bend

on a night with no moon, no wind. Surface disturbed,

the water

rolled out the notes of its logic.

Red and the memory of red.          Trans-parented.

“Because people stare at my breasts,” says the empiricist.

Some a’ that, piece a’ that, check that, hit that.

That skank. She could have refused those photos. Those poses.

She was smiling.

Why fight          when you could leave your skin and watch

from a distance—the pressure cooked face, the antics

of the amped-up body—too ridiculous to fight.

The altered syntax of her limbs.

The fast water giveth and the fast water

Red-winged blackbirds

spiral above the river

Rocks smooth as skin beneath the rapids



The highway climbs

between the old-god faces of blasted out rock

Trucks have a long blind spot        Pass them fast.  

Look downward, the valley breathes, languorous

and deep.

The river’s a knife in its green sheath.

Copyright 2016 Barbara Edelman



Idaho’s Main Salmon River

8 comments on “Barbara Edelman: The River

  1. Charlie Brice
    October 27, 2016

    It’s difficult to think that someone could write a more perfect poem than “River.” First there’s the exciting and surprising form. I feel like I’m in a river when reading it. I don’t know what’s around the next bend, but I want to find out. Then there’s the really big questions: “How do I know I’m not a brain in a vat?” A question asked by the important philosophers, everyone from Descartes, to Hume, to Sartre. Barbara opts for Hume,”because I have hands.” Then there’s the just plain lovely lyricism of the poem, ” Night woods

    thick with the wing song of insects. Wide bend

    on a night with no moon, no wind. Surface disturbed,

    the water

    rolled out the notes of its logic.”
    I’ve been reading this poem over and over and each time I enjoy it a bit more.


  2. sinnhuberma
    October 26, 2016

    ohmyverygoshalmighty. this is INcredible !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara
      October 27, 2016

      MA–honored again–thank you!


  3. anisioluiz2008
    October 26, 2016

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.


    • Barbara
      October 27, 2016

      muchas gracias!


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This entry was posted on October 26, 2016 by in Environmentalism, Poetry and tagged , .

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