the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Melinda Thomsen

Common Mergansers and Tundra Swans

In their flotilla, several dozen mergansers
bob the easy waves of Cathead Bay.
Although we've named their gatherings
brace, flush, paddling, raft or team,
these behave more as an armada —
adult females in the lead, guide
the young from the shore behind
two tundra swans. They paddle a hundred
yards then turn back when a fishing boat
approaches. The lead swan blocks
the lead merganser and after brief standoff,
the hens harry their child army away.
Earlier today, the two swans appeared
in silent tandem, wing to wing,
but with the speed of a motor boat
and their bleached white against the sky
they looked like a note from God, a scribble,
as they flew past, the black U shape
of their feet hanging beneath their tails
punctuating each body. In a synchronized
landing on water, the way a dancer brings
a ballerina to the stage from an overhead
lift these two entered my world against
a backdrop of noise from jet skiers
and gasoline fumes. When the water returns
to its rhythmic lapping, the mergansers
again steer off from the coast as the swans
bunker down, one on a rock, the other
floating nearby, to adjust their feathers.
The mergansers roam the bay
back and forth when suddenly
the swans, with a clapping
of black leather feet on the water
runway, heft their twenty pound
bodies skyward with feet dangling,
and only until they are far above
do they reunite into a double arc.



"A moose has come out of the impenetrable wood…"
             — Elizabeth Bishop

The moose head on the floor
looks up in a peaceful gaze
with a slight grin, as if he knew
this was coming. The base of his neck
hammered to a wooden oval just three
inches wider all around at the end
of his severed neck, a foot and half
back from his ears. The wide horns stretch
out to almost graze the couch back beside
where he is waiting for the formidable wall
space he requires. A light layer of dust films
his marble eyes. His sable coat is smooth
and soft, almost as if he were alive
but the bottom of his chin is chipped
and two of his broken teeth show through
the open patch. This accident resulted
in his move to the garage sale where
my friend found him left on the ground,
facing up at the rafters while his deep
amber glass eyes, containing a black seed,
stared sideways, viewing the world
fearlessly unlike real ones sensing the burn
of a bullet entering his shoulder,
lungs or liver, but perhaps, he didn't
know and kept running for 500 yards
because his pelt was wet and the small
bullets made it possible for him to live
a while longer, until this noble creature
ended here on the living room floor,
a constant reminder of the need
to find a home worthy of death.



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