Nervous-system tracings of rivers before dams—
to map watercourses is to diagram human hands
running in fingers to deltas. Neosho, Kaw,
Cimarron, Verdigris, Arkansas, Chickaskia.
Flood flow in spring, summer languid. Call
their names—conjure those whose language
they carry. Memory exists in nerves, lives in
rivers like silver-scaled great-horned serpent,
basilisk who admonishes our failures. Metaphor
reminds us that humans subsisted along rivers
immemorial. Recall, then, those dead metaphors,
breathe them back to life—river of time, river
of memory, river of life, river of blood, river of
song, river of death. River of contempt. Not the
same river, not the same woman—Heraclitus’
axiom along cattail-encumbered bank. Honor
rivers’ meanders, their currents our late-night
reveries that roar, crawl along, rush downstream,
and overflow, leaving mica scales behind. How
rivers sometimes get lost. How we all get lost.

Copyright © 2018 Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. This poem originally appeared in The New Territory, December 2018. Used with permission of the author.