the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Kate Irving

Fault Lines

To live in a house of fire, hearth
and chimney black with smoke,
my feet walked the heaved path,

measuring the distance each day,
to the stone wall and back again.
Sentinel of yellowing elms and words
unsaid: we weren't made for each other.

There's no explanation for the way edges meet,
no stopping tectonic plates.
This is a song of Indian Pipes in the leaf mold,
the frost warning before the frost.


Crossing Fools Pond

It's hard to tell how safe,
how solid the black ice is
that joins one bank to the other,
where a step away is enough muck
to suck you down till Sunday.
Don't step. Say you don't need
whatever it is on the other side
or the glitter and dart of silver fry
swimming hard to keep from freezing.
Sit on a cold rock and love these
littered banks of washed silt and moss.
The business of small creatures
goes on without you. Go,
or don't go, but don't stand there
taking up air.

(Previously appeared in Live Mag! NYC)


The Good Student

Kept at arm's length you stop shouting
learn to whisper
understand silence
In the dark you invent a small light

You defy gravity

You knock unbidden on heavy doors
pull down rusted underpinnings

And before becoming what you most fear
you must say what you think is true
not necessarily what is


Raising the Arsonist's Daughter from the Dead

On the way up I was taught everything's ushered down —
apple blossoms flutter with exquisite delicacy;
the race horse's heart bursts in the final stretch.

The hospital room my mother died in
recorded her eyes, dull and staring;
my father's, disbelieving; and mine,
buttoning up grief like a coat as it leaves a warm house.

A shade follows me, the same one I follow.
I'm a ghost sandwich, weary of her noise.
At night I still sleep with failure,
faithful to disappointment, enamored of what vanishes.

When did I enter this forest abuzz with a thousand saws,
spores bursting into aves in mid-air collision,
singing in the rustle of the rake dragged through leaves,
thwack of the axe splitting hardwood.

I'm hewing it down to a slender truth.
I'm writing a handbook for mortals.



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