the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2007



Joanna Solfrian

First Snowstorm, 2003

We become aware of our organs only when they revolt,
is what I’m thinking indoors with a stomach cramp
during the first snowstorm of the year.
The snow blows horizontally now,
and I have heard only one truck go by in the last hour—
a truck with a capable-sounding engine—
and the light does slant differently this time
of year, but I’ve forgotten how because the light now
is loose and gray and tangling its veil in the trees.
The priest who sat across from me
yesterday told me that we are incarnate
and that death has no dominion. Today, the flakes catch
in the screen, and perhaps there are souls blowing around
outside right now, waiting for the divine hand of god
to shape them into flesh. I remember what it was like to be
a child in church and to know nothing of death,
to rub the nap of the velvet pews and climb
up into the belfry on a Saturday because my father had a key
and watch the slow bumbling casement flies
so close to the end of summer you could catch them
in your fist or bat them against the pane. But here,
snow blankets everything, and who can tell
what is a grill and what is a small table
or perhaps an unlucky animal.
Another stomach cramp, more towards the seat of my spine,
and I look for something to fix my eyes
upon, but the white has set in as a soft blindness.
The day of the solar eclipse, our third-grade teacher,
a year-long substitute who never returned,
told us we could blind ourselves if we looked too long.
But we wanted to see two concentric circles haloing
the flat brick building—light dressed in a dark mouth—
even casually neared the window to glimpse it.
We wanted to look, and some of us did.
Now, holding my knees to my chest I can see
nothing outside this window, nothing
but edgeless shadow and the violent wind, and up
from my stomach comes the thought that
time is homeless in the snow. Still, in a few months,
the daffodils will send forth their spires, make their home
above ground, and begin the process of forgetting
that we call living, and they will do so the following year
and the year after that, and even still when the fields
are level and there is no one in any dominion
to look at them any more, except the trees,
and the leaves, and whatever clouds
have just been born.


for Erica

The new sun fills the sky
and underneath the earth lie the ashes
of a woman. Come nightfall,
the stars will light their small fires
and the night-worms will tunnel through earth.
The ashes of the woman
talk to the sun in a language
only ashes and suns understand.

When the stars begin their silent processional,
so too the night-worms their choreography.
Being neither of the sky nor earth,
I have no swaddling of star-dust,
no knowledge of the underworld.
Time is still ticked off in hours.

What do I know of sitting on a park bench,
as I sit now, next to this old man?
He has just nodded hello,
he has just lifted his brow
to the sun.


after Merwin

In sleep, you come to me,
a blind woman who maps your face
with her fingertips, while my body lies
on a distant continent, silently tethered in blankets.
The shadows of the interior are never as dark
as the threaded hallways of the living city,
though in the interior I have lost to a flood
a home perhaps, or even your child.
The plane of sleep travels so wide it wraps
around itself again until the waking hour comes
and the dream curls like an old paper
upon which, once, I saw your name—
then through the streets walks
the plainness of noon and maybe
three feet above us
the spirits—


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