Jul/Aug 2006 Poetry

Two Poems

by Ellen Kombiyil

Art by Victor Ehikhamenor

When the Rivers Were Still Clean, the Old Men Said Take Her Down and Save Her

You're going to Hell and your mother is, too,
her grandmother told her. So one Sunday
she wore her white Polly Flanders
with the smocking on front and loose bow
of baby bloom satin at the waist.

For someone so steeped in sin,
she expected a full soaking, robed
singers, special lighting, a feeling
of lifting, but it was just a sprinkle
transferred from his fingers to the crown
of her head. Later, in another
summer, she would recall the sensation:
standing under porch eaves in a dressing
gown too thin for the weather, syncopatic
plitt, platt, and lips still wet from kissing,
she waited for the rain to ease before
dashing up the front steps into the house.


Laura and the River

The bridge into town ran over the deep
part at the swimming hole. All summer,
sounds of splashing: jumping jackknives
and cannonballs from the iron rail.

We'd start upstream, at the tributary
behind the Sugar Creek Diner.
Our journey took us through shallow
water rushing over stones and into
deep wading pools, quiet under low
branches, the only sounds houseflies, dragon-
flies. Phlunk. Phlish. Lips and retreating fin.

It made me dizzy, trying
to keep straight what flowed into what
and where, which part was named river
and what merely brook, mountain flow.

The summer I stopped naming, let water
be water, all interconnected
and mixing, Laura climbed the bridge
with the boys, wearing her first bikini.
The whole time she was standing then falling,
I wanted to cry out No, no. Under
the bridge, a damp smell, murky water.
Emerging, she said she'd gone all the way,
touched bottom. Her words flashed silver
in the sharp air, her face a river
of droplets, eyes round like a fish.


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