American Life in Poetry: Column 581

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here's a fine poem about the fleshy pleasures of adolescence by Ginger Murchison, from her book a scrap of linen, a bone from Press 53. Murchison lives in Florida.

River

Late afternoons, we'd tuck up our hems
under Minisa Bridge, scrape our white knees
on scrub brush and drowned trees to slide
 
down the dirt bank past milk-weed
gone to seed, cattails and trash to sit on stones
at the edge of the river and giggle and smoke,
 
waiting to wolf-whistle North High's rowing team.
In the shadows where the milk-chocolate river
unfolded, ooze between our toes, we'd strip,
 
risk long-legged insects, leeches and mothers
for the silt slick on our thighs, the air thick
with the smell of honeysuckle, mud—the rest
 
of the day somewhere downstream. We didn't
know why, but none of us wanted
to go home to polite kitchens and mothers
 
patiently waiting for what happened next,
the way women have always waited for hunter husbands,
kept vigils and prayed at the entrance of mines.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Ginger Murchison, “River,” from a scrap of linen, a bone, (Press 53, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Ginger Murchison and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.