Green River Blues
by Elsa Howell
I’ve been tied to the sleeping city on
this side of the river long enough for
my broken boughs to be splinted with iron and braced
with concrete. Sky high, rachis
swaying as the winds get colder. I eat
quietly in the back alley
alone like the other flies.
I’m predatory here
in the cattails, lurking like the ringneck
I crushed with a brick seven summers ago.
He sat in the grass waiting,
breathing dirt through his tongue and laughing. But snakes
can’t stand the cold.
I am an old woman named after
another old woman whose body had to cross
the green river alone.
If I could go home now, I'd wrap
my grapevine arms around her gumtree hips
and tell her we all cross green rivers somehow.
Crossing them a second time is the hard part.
The old billy goat in my backyard told me once
that the Devil asks you nine questions before you can cross the green river
a second time.
I part the grass and
the bruised clouds searching for his answers, but
I can’t find them.
I find only snakes, black
and copper, frozen, sleeping,
too cold to do anything but whisper
good men die too.
The city and the green river take what answers I do have and toss them
playfully to the wind. They whip at my cheeks like strands of
lemon hair as my skin collects silt loam.
I am granite on this side of the river.
I am a child on the other.