take it to the river | Sylvia Rains Dennis

8 mins read


don’t look at the line that flattens
without leaping first, still sleeping
ahead of undiscovered country
and the singing to remain here,

the song begun under seven
stars and the ancient warrior
wearing Alnilam on his belt:
Orpheus sang the most,

seeking Eurydice whose host
taught the woman to wear
the rose-carved cedar beads
woodland elders still string

for young hearts and the ones
who no longer speak; so the pierced
reminders of wise-hearted evergreens
yet guard against what men may do,

have done, will continue doing under
the same sun—now that the singers
have met silence among the noise
makers who gag this time on earth

while one red queen lingers,
rubyseeds staining her palm.

an elegiac echo

writing worlds back from the gone,
memory sings in times of peace,
in times without peace: she is
there through the forgetting, too,
her whisper inside the folded
histories that made things so
hard to repair; when mankind
thinks she’s voiceless, there are
women who know otherwise, soft
melodies rising from their tongues:

the eldest stands half-hidden by
an unfinished tapestry, then speaks:
remember that day, long before
any of us married, when twinned
souls drew their first breath, and
we had only one daughter among
us all; she ran to the forest to hide
from people—her friends wore fur
and cones, petals and feathers; she
told us she found something ancient
there, watching where the river
pooled in the shade of willow, alder,
aspen: a music she already knew—

the weaver holds her breath,
refocuses on her loom; her thoughts
drift into silent clouds, reaching for
the one who had never returned
from the song of the world.

beyond poisoned waters

the man who’d hunted her
stole gravel from the river,
changing water’s song.

is it true only one person
noticed how his voice grew
rocky, more parched, even on
dewclad mountain mornings?

one man’s infected fear quivered
beneath the skin of each taunting,
shooting blame toward the soft,
still refusing to see himself in
all the crooked, in all the brokens.

she remained the only no in his aim:
an unarmed woman who thinned, yet
never lacked winged company while
feathers and songs hovered nearby;

the unsprung beartrap rusted
beneath her already maimed feet;
a scarlet stream soon to trickle
from her closed mouth;

enough river flowing nearby,
coming for to carry her home.


once mountains known as white
still wore crawling glaciers; wild fish
swam near hatching tadpoles, blinking
warnings about the scissor-beak of
a skinny legged heron who greeted
every roselit dawn, branched toes
placed within the smooth channel:

when the woman arrived, flycatchers
lingered, building cupped nests among
thin willow arms, swinging sideways
from red-osier stems to catch wildflies
and dusty millers as sunrays filtered
through the cottonwood gallery,
warming the smooth boulder

where she sat in the morning, near
a small fire circle, stretching iceblue
fingers above heating riverwater;
the bluegray bird-of-life watched her
approach on homemade splints;
sometimes she fell among broken
branches and slick stones, only to rise

in a series of lifting, pulling, twisting,
and shifting: nearby the riverbeings
hovered, no longer startled when
she moved into view, crawling free
from the rock shelter she returned to
at nightfall; one by one, they came
closer to hear the sounds that began

once her tongue had stopped bleeding,
song fragments each seemed to know
coming from her open throat: while
they listened for musical notes, more
singers arrived and winter released
the ice-sheathed river at last, water
soon dancing alongside the furred,

finned, feathered, and those rubbery-legged
frogs already chanting spring tunes—when
watersnakes moved through the shadowy
reedbeds, more change spilled into the bosque.


after he’d stung her, venom soaked
through every layer of womanhood;
she could feel electrified pain in
each internal passageway while
creeping toward the river under
the veil of midnight stormclouds
taking cover near cottonwood saplings

where damp mud taught her to expect
new leaves and returning birdsong;
each morning she followed the deertrail
as ice began to melt, only a brittle shelf
remaining where shoreline met swiftly
moving channel; she pressed damp
boxelder leaves against her face,

sitting close to water’s edge when native
trout fingerlings gathered in the shallows;
she watched them turn downstream
to seek warmer currents, remembering
the hungry-mouthed world where spotted
predators ten times their size waited in
muddy flows near the old cabin by

a splintering corral, hatchery browns soon
whirling where sewage pooled among
livestock waste, then entered the river;
camouflaged men arrived with heavy
backpacks and rubber boots to shock
the water until frogs, fish, waders, and
floaters suffered electrocution—all to
drift paralyzed on the poisoned foam;

first she had tried reviving them in still pools,
then crawled along the river to gather those
washed ashore, their eyes still staring as she
began to bury each rotting victim in sand
troughs dug using her leg brace; she’d seen
the wild and the young, the many fishers
who came across unscathed bodies, only

to end up eating what had poisoned the rest:
when they found her there, more than a mile
downriver—men carrying searchlights, nets,
battery packs, guns—she was still humming
to the lost, riverbirds watching from the canopy.


reading drips stalactites
into a story known before,
until readers’ teeth reach
the damp floor of an ancient
cave beneath the surface
we are all so fond of:

within the earth, the pace
slows as slipping has no end;
rockwalls greet those who
hurry with sudden reminders
of impact until, earthlings all,
we must listen to each droplet
fall into the profound silence

beneath our known world;
the same yawning cavern
refused to release Eurydice,
whose stumbling blind journey
from the deep, through the dark,
followed a bard grown quiet

though lovers hoped to sing again,
to find themselves newly drenched
by heavenlit breath, stolen voices
restored—as is our prayer, too,

arriving here, mouths covered
by the stone slabs of history.