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Three Bridges

When the rains came I was, for my own purposes,
on the far side of the river. Who could've known
the drizzle would ratchet to torrent, or the river
unbuckle, swallow its banks, ring the scattered trees

like so many necks trying to stay afloat, strip boats
from their moorings and batter them out of the river's throat
into the mouths of other rivers? Or that it would wash out

the town's three bridges: the one too narrow to walk
two abreast, the one beyond the last houses, already ruined,
abandoned by all but reckless boys and swallows,

even the one, story goes, someone made a pact
with the devil to build, the one I crossed in the morning
as it arched in the uneasy air like a wing.

And by the time I had to leave what I'd come to do
half-done, the rain made it hard to see, coming down
and never done with falling. Everything bleared,

went pale and indistinct. My clothes weighed
as much as a child. I fell, and the rain struck me
clean. I lost my way and found a river I didn't recognize

in its frenzy, whitecaps shearing its surface like teeth.
Even when the rains died, the flood kept on, worrying
the absent bridges, the water thick with silt, its current
full of animals coiled in the rush. I couldn't dare it.

Where's the devil when his deal falls through
its own reflection? Now the bridge is half of what it was,
reversed in the river bottom leading nowhere

I want to go. At least from here I can see my house,
my daughter when she walks into the yard with a pail.
She looks up by chance, and though she must wonder

what's become of me, she doesn't see my waving arm,
an unrecognizable motion in a landscape she knows
she should know but doesn't anymore. Or she sees me
in too many places to keep track; I'm the one missing

thing missing everywhere. But then her eyes catch
on the swallows sweeping the bloated river—no way
back to their roosts now, they lift away to take an eyeful
of everything that isn't what it was. And move on . . .

This must be what death is like: those left behind
look up sometimes where they think you should be,
but if they see you at all it's from too far to make sense

of what you've become—a color bled briefly
into sight through a whirl of silt. And then—who can
blame them, there's so much to do to reclaim the house,
to live in it again—they look away, and you're left

waiting for the river to settle back between the banks
that held it in place all your life and become itself again.

Corey Marks

The Radio Tree
New Issues Poetry & Prose

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