5.02 / February 2010

Before the River Freezes

If you listen
in the mornings, you’ll hear
this valley’s strips of shade
stretch and yawn
across your lidded eyes,
the grass lock tight
to your grayness.
How easy it is then
to show you this river,
the gravel bar,
the bend where I as a girl
might have lain
across a beached alder
all afternoon
eating blackberries,
licking the red
from my wrists,
watching trout
skip like stones
through the shallows.
You say you see dark shapes
standing in front of the sun.
You say you smell smoke
rising up from the earth.
You believe the hills
are crumbling
beneath you, the people
are throwing their bones
in the water.
How do I tell you?
What the world knows
is crazy, at last,
and we have hands
full of blueweed
to prove it. Let’s sit
on these rocks till tomorrow,
let the crows
knock lichen onto our clothes.
These things should be easy
for you, you who study
the water, watch it fill
with small wings at dusk,
then point out an eddy
of hunger.
But already I can feel you
going back to your yellow
and devious sands,
that metal moon
sharp at your neck.
The river is shifting
around me, making
me shiver.
If not your horizontal
fingers, cool
and pale against
this rock,
if not these crickets
diving like swallows across
your chest,
I’d like you to think of me,
my whole edge of skin
wanting all
the light
between my ribs.

Hot Streak, Mid-May

The river is high now. My back
is like fruit leather on the computer chair
where I’ve placed myself
to write this. I wonder
where you are tonight: a hotel room, somewhere,
where there is air conditioning
and you are feeding yourself Runts
in your underwear, watching late night
news. Watching the talk about refugees,
some lovely anchor whose lips you can’t
stop giving all your attention to, who’s saying
later it will dip into the seventies so we can all
get some rest. You’ll never cool off, though,
even in sleep, when you dream of the ice
you love to see form on the eaves
of the garage while you make chocolate
warm for your throat. I know you.
You’re thinking of me, even when you’re sure
you should be doing something else, something
like shaving or trying to remember your mother’s
birthday. I’m thinking even the river must be sticky,
the way it yawns and grunts about the rocks, rolling,
turning, its sheets of current tight against its thighs,
never able to get comfortable
on a night like this.


Though it’s gone down a little, that water
at the bridge is still too brown for me to do
any more than wade in. I did today, after twisting
my ankle again. I could see just by the shore,
where creatures skip and scuttle against the sand
my toes sink into. Behind me the willow was
saying something again, the grass too tired yet
to be much more than green trying to overcome
yellow. And beyond, out there, where the current
ripped against itself like hair or the wet legs
of a galloping horse, the river was dark,
and reeked of the damp undersides of things.
Of course I thought of you, flat rock
poised to fling like a small girl might from a giant’s
grip, drop from his cloud and plummet
the way a grown woman trips on a trail.
She goes down hard from those hands.
You’d call me clumsy but we both know my body
just wants to be closer to earth.

Maya Jewell Zeller's first book, Rust Fish, will be released in fall 2011 from Lost Horse Press. Individual poems recently appear inHigh Desert Journal and Cirque, and are forthcoming in Spoon River Poetry Review and Rattle. Maya lives in Spokane, Washington, where she teaches English at Gonzaga University.
5.02 / February 2010