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.


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