the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2007



Michelle Battiste

Climbing Brian

This is not a love poem, though photos may prove
     otherwise, not as an elm proves belligerence, but as a knot
     of eels proves fear—dark bodies of water
If bodies can be mountains, then Brian is a swell without rockface,
     switchbacks overgrown with clover, trailmarkers faded
     to mere suggestion
Required gear: compass, cornstarch, savory victuals for bait,
     for slowing the ascent, for remembering the tongue
     is a strong muscle

Tape the bruised toe but no shoes
The back of his bent knees are footholds
Footholds yield to soft pressure
Not everyone can climb Brian
Little dancers who know how to fall often do

There is a center, a contempt of gravity, a plumb-line-determined
     nexus of nerves that would rather float than balance
Some swear by abdominals, but the pelvis is better — light
     for the hollow
Raised, it will hover and billow, shadow his back
     not as a parachute shadows a fall, but as a storm
     cloud shadows, distended above dark bodies of water, and arms
     will forget there should be mass for the balancing
Strong muscles are good
Hands then knees then feet on shoulders
Higher than Brian is higher than a mountain, a body
All bodies are mostly water


This Place

This is the room with a view of the el, and beyond
     it the river, the brightly-lit buildings of mid-town, the suspended
     arcs of the Triborough Bridge
This is the view marred by the panicked flight of the shadow-sparrow,
     a spasm haunting its wing
This is the chair where the faithful sit, watching the bird fly back
     and forth above the alley, stranded above
     the dunes the blizzard left
This is the blizzard that travels south-southwest, turning
     to rain when a hunter puts down his bag of rabbits and kneels
     at the edge of a lake

Winter will soon end for all of them — the faithful, the hunter,
     the bird, this place
This place that winter makes
     that makes the city more imagined than the hunter, that
     makes the faithful mourn the bird before it ends
     its flight


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