A Poem by Elizabeth Hoover


I. Assorted Facts About Rivers

drive southward (except one)
lack relics
follow salt
exist in imagination and myth as well as in mud and mineral
hard to integrate into the mind because of continuity, edacity, deathlessness
when meeting another body, a river welcomes part of that body into its own
this perfect body is known as estuary

II. A Story with a River

One day during rowing practice, our coach yelled, “Hold water,” meaning place the oars vertically in the river to arrest forward motion. Our arms shook with effort as the boat kept drifting toward the bridge topped by police cars. A rope dangled over the edge. Suddenly a diver lifted his otter-slick head from the water and waved. The rope went taut. As we slid beneath the bridge, a body lifted from the river, twisting like a pupa and sprinkling us with water. Later we learned from the coach’s newspaper that the woman had been raped and, when she ran, chased to the bridge. We talked about ourselves — what we would do — and of the river, choppy on account of rain.

III. Relationship to Sky

If overcast, mid-sized waves.
If sunny, depends on the wind.
If light rain, smooth.
If after a hard rain, choppy
and coach kept us on land, doing jumping jacks
in the parking lot and a drill called
prisoner runs. As we jogged past the bridge,
how many of us wondered what the river held?
How many graves does the river make? How many
dream of escape along a river? As our feet bit the gravel
at the edge of the bridge’s shadow, did we ask
was it a jump or a push?

IV. On Mass and Persistence

How does one measure the mass of a river,
mass meaning whether or not you can gather
something in your arms. In that sense,
the river’s mass is both yes and no, if —
as one girl imagines — the woman stretched
her arms out as though greeting a loved one.

She is afraid she will see herself
dangling from that rope. Impossible, she thinks,
I never ran. How did the woman know to run or rather how
did she will herself to move, to kick and fight? Or how
did I not? The girl needs another question, one that will make
a new river, one that will make estuary, a question
I don’t yet have the words for. Instead I will tell you
how 13 horses once stood on the banks of the Bukhtarma crowned
in ibex horns and ornamented with masks of cats and griffins,
all smelted from gold so when the sun rises they shine like
mythical creatures scattering sparks into the dawn-slicked water
where they will be slaughtered, buried with their master, and revealed
millennia later by archeologists puzzling over these adornments and
I will tell you archeologists bore into their bones to study the marrow
so I can run
without seeing the river, or the body lifting, or the men sliding me onto
the gurney, the gurney wheeling away.

Elizabeth Hoover’s poetry has appeared in Epoch, Crab Orchard Review, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. She recently received the Difficult Fruit Poetry Prize from IthacaLit. Her creative nonfiction has been published in Lunch Ticket and StoryQuarterly, as the winner of their 2015 essay prize. She lives in Pittsburgh.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.