Poem 184 ± December 5, 2015

Iris Jamahl Dunkle

We grew up in a town that took pride in
high water marks. History is like that—
river gone muddy with too much

time. We forgot the sewage scare, how it
shut down the river for weeks, how we were
afraid to swim for fear of getting sick. We forgot

the way the gravel companies dug pits
deep into the river’s throat—so deep
the salmon couldn’t come back to spawn

because the river always swelled with rain to cover
what we’d forgotten. So, too, were we blind
to the hollowed-out men who began to appear

sometimes on streets, sometimes as blue ghosts on
T.V. haunting the wards of hospitals
in the faraway city. But when one

of us opened our throats to ask what’s wrong,
we were hushed, redirected toward safer
courses, that were cloudy as the river
gone swollen with too much rain and fear.

So that when we grew awkwardly into our bodies,
when we pressed our skin against another’s skin
the risk of the disease felt distant as the far off sea.

Until the pits swallowed us up. Until history
came washing back like a high tide and nothing,
not even our own brackish hearts, could save us

from what was hiding underneath the surface.

iris-jamahl-dunkleIris Jamahl Dunkle is the author of Gold Passage (Trio House Press, 2013), selected by Ross Gay as the winner of the 2012 Trio Award, as well as the chapbooks Inheritance (Finishing Line Press, 2010) and The Flying Trolley (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her collection There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air is forthcoming in January 2016. Iris teaches writing and literature at Napa Valley College. Learn more about Iris and her work at www.irisjamahldunkle.com.

This poem is not previously published.