Union Stock Yards, Exchange Buildings and Cattle Pens, Chicago
The river in my heart
is parched and dry.It packs its bags, leaves
its keys in the door.Once it was a braid.
It was ravel and rope.It folds and unfolds.
Now it churns up its banks.It spits out the trees.
The river gathers its skirts.It has no time for me.
When I open my mouthit is hook and plunge,
snag on my sleeve. It divesthrough my chest
because l am a marshand my breath is clotted
with weeds. The riveris fingering bolts of cotton.
It steers around stones.Once it lapped
against roofs, curtainsblew into its oars, but now
the river is split and tear,rise and sheer.
It won’t come undone.If I’m lucky, it will teach me
how to breathe.
Copyright © 2018 by Joelle Biele
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Joelle Biele is the author of the poetry collections White Summer and Broom and the editor of Elizabeth Bishop and “The New Yorker”: The Complete Correspondence. She has taught American literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Goucher College, the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and Jagiellonian University, Poland.
Using newspaper accounts and court records from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Joelle Biele’s poems tell the personal stories of women who left their homes and families to tramp the roads and rails. Driven by poverty, abuse, or a desire for a better life, these women often encountered misery and danger in their quest for freedom, as interviews and printed records attest. In Tramp, Biele weaves these real-life stories into poignant and insightful verse that gives us a window into previously unexplored lives.
“With daring and panache, Joelle Biele pulls us onto the boxcars occupied by early twentieth-century ‘tramps,’ and we experience their adventures and dangers, their alternative histories, existing outside the conventional narrative. . . . What a rush it is to occupy, for a time, a life like ‘a horse too wild to ride,’ to gaze from an accelerating train at ‘a silo that dreams of nothing but thunder and grain.’ What a magnificent journey.”
—Beth Ann Fennelly
“With attention to craft and voice, research and beauty, Joelle Biele writes a world that is at once entirely new and fundamentally true. Thanks to Tramp, my heart and my mind are more open, more full.”