James River, Virginia

by Madeleine Wattenberg

Let’s start at the foam tufts as the current
     navigates the oil ribbons, the bank harnessed
by jade grasses, at the russet dog, a toy ring
      in her mouth, the way she calculates
an angle back to the shoreline.
      Let’s start at the rocks, above, below,
the surface, the train tracks tightly encircled by vines.
     Let’s start with the bat, half splayed
under coils of fallen branches, its tiny cricket cry
     when faced with the dog’s inquisition,
the extended bat fangs the size of a fish’s pin bone,
      the wings like leather, certainly, as any
animal’s hide could be, but also like an x-ray, inside
     out, blistered to near-black. Let’s start
at the pipeline, rust-dressed in the middle of summer,
      the sand not yet disappeared
by the water’s rise, the pipe turned path. Let’s start

      with the water moccasin, the question
of its body changing as water changes, its mark
      changing, the mark of it changing.
Let’s start with the old bridge, no longer there, three legs
     without a body, a way without a way across,
old stone, placed, unplaced, moved by water.
     Let’s start with the things we didn’t notice,
how we moved past all of this on our future’s little
     leadrope. Time would be nothing without us.
The russet dog drops the ring at the bank, waits
     for it to be thrown to the current.
Make way, make way, her body sings to the water.

back to University & College Poetry Prizes