4 min read

There Are No Hands In The River

There Are No Hands In the River

Filled my pockets with stones
waded into the river
to my knees the water, I shivering, stood
(not so cold, the water, my bones knew to
tremble: the cold was not the thing to shiver for)

All that I wanted: to escape the ghost-rattling chains
shackled to the thing at the center of me
I only wanted to escape the hunger
that I could not hide from that I could not live without
I only wanted.

The patient chill that walked up
my spine, I thought was fear (or
hope or courage but) When I turned my
back to the river, skirt clinging wet
white linen grey with the water, tracing my calves
the shiver climbed in with the hunger
tucked itself around the hollow
place to stay

I emptied my pockets
Left a cairn by the riverside
Wept with shame, coward, you coward
my belly curled in on the hunger, curled
tighter than clinging webbed fingers
(not webbed, interlaced, no, remember,
back then they were separate)
The hunger, I wanted to run
from the hunger

Ironic, that I, hungry I, failed to notice the
blood. When the time came for washing the
skirt, it was stiff as forgetting, blood-brown. When
I looked at my leg, found
the place where my blood had unspooled,
drifted into the water.
The scab was as fresh
as a nest-warm new egg.

I filled up the pockets with stones and I threw
the skirt into the river and
watched as it sank, no coward the linen
the billowing fabric as brave as
a ghost — brave, then gone.
I told myself it was the stones made it
sink, was the stones, not
the hands
that reached up
and formed fists in the
folds, pulled it down past the
place I could see.

(There are no hands in the river
I incanted the words in a
whisper. I walked from the water
and came to the garden, where weeds needed pulling
Again and again like a psalm like a promise
my fingers clenched tight, pulling, pulling,
insisting: no, there are no hands in the river,
no hands in the river, no hands
in the river)

I woke in the night from a dream
(When I slept, I slept only to
hide from the hunger, I needed a break from
the hunger, my dreams always free from the
hunger). I woke to the water,
cool, brushing my earlobes
the sides of my neck blooming like
unfurling petals, a dandelion peeling apart
and the water, so cold that it softened the shiver
of emptiness low in my belly

A dream, just a dream
in the morning, my skin was unbroken and I
at the mirror, unwebbed fingers trailing across
my soft throat, surface as closed as a bone, hissing
dream just a dream just a dream
(and ignoring the hair that
curled damp at the nape of my neck).

I reached for the hunger and pulled it close, pulled
it right into the shape of my
ribs and my arms and my belly
pulled until it hurt just enough to erode the
sharp edge of the shiver.

I pulled weeds in the garden
Washed my hair, wove it tight in a
braid, swept the floor, chopped the wood,
carried water to boil at the hearth.
It filled up the kitchen with river-smell
green, living, rich, rotten, and when that smell
filled my kitchen, I thought for a moment
perhaps I was home.

I woke in the night with my
fists full of stones and my
hips in the water,
the bright owning-eye of the moon overhead
(the hunger give in to the hunger give
in to the hunger), with
scales spreading over my thighs and my
throat open, reaching, like fingers fanned
out in the water to feel where the
small fish dart past.

In the morning the skin of my thighs was
fresh butter. I scrubbed my hands over
myself with regret, but no
patch of rasp met me. No comfort to come in
my waking hours, only the way a
remembered-dream caught in the back
of my throat
so I opened the door to the hunger
and scooped it up into my arms
like a too-large child
that will not walk any further today.

I brewed tea
I scrubbed my bedsheets clean
I sharpened an ax
I butchered a chicken.
I cut off my braid with the bloodied
edge of the blade
left the hair in the garden
among garlic I didn’t intend to harvest.

I gathered stones.

I woke in the night in my old linen skirt
hungry, hungry
my feet at the edge of the river.
I filled up my pockets with stones
and I spat at the moon
and I walked in and in and in, and
I sank to the place where my legs
were not legs
I let my throat blossom, as open as
a fistful of chrysanthemums

I lifted my arms and I swayed to the current I
reached for whoever might
come to the river.
The river, come
come to the river,
come into the river.
There are no
hands in the river