What the River Built
Al Maginnes

What the River Built

The river might have offered escape
        had it not run too quickly to allow
entrance into the brown swell
        of its veins. Below what we could see
lay rocks fractured to angles and blades,
        the mud of its belly folding over
thousands of arrowheads too flawed
        for flight, so drowned instead.
Without trying, the river built
        one more obstacle that made
a fortress of the town. Ronnie Gayden,
        who had kin buried in almost
every graveyard in the county,
        claimed an uncle or step-grandfather
drowned diving from the rail trestle
        into the river not long after
the dam was built. Another text
        for nightmares, a water harsh
as the God we were taught to fear.
        Like all deities’, the river’s threat
was endless and still is
        for a boy eyeing the twists
and braids of current, figuring
        his weight against the water’s spread.
I live close to lakes now, man-cut
        and deceptive islands of water.
In warm months, water takes back
        a few of us land-walkers,
releases them only when they are
        more water than earth, one means
of escape from that almost-nameless town.
        And we who lie burning with
the desire for other places find ways
        over ancestors drowned by time
or legend, their bones gone
        soft and milky in a universe
made finally of water.

Al Maginnes

is the author of The Next Place, which will be published in spring 2017, and of six other full-length collections. He has recent poems in Mount Hope, Beyu, and other journals. His interview with poet Christopher Buckley will appear in Asheville Poetry Review in the spring of 2017. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.