Melanie Almeder’s first book, On Dream Street, was a finalist for the Walt Whitman award and won the Editor’s Prize from Tupelo Press (2007). A 2008 recipient of a Virginia Commission for the Arts Grant, her poems have appeared in a range of journals, including Poetry, Five Points, The Georgia Review, The Seneca Review, and The Cortland Review. In recent years she has collaborated with artists for exhibitions in Miami, Ireland, Canada and Finland. She teaches creative writing and contemporary literature at Roanoke College in Virginia.
You would swim the river
if you could trust the river,
but you don’t trust the river:
its green is a beautiful lie—
surface and shift, a hush
long as a sky. It’s soul
you are after, here, a memory
of being young, skinny, and sprung into
the cool drift of it, drenched.
You are parched. You were sick
for so long. The river is older
than you-- all those innocent
currents. The man at the dock
says there are a few rivers left,
you could float in and eat from,
but not here, even if he saw
a guy last summer drunk,
reeling in the fish, frying them.
You cannot smell the factory
forty miles up but you know it’s there,
the smear of paper in the air.
Here, just this fatigued green
and a shallow lip against which
the cups and cans eddy. Some wind
chords the trees and they almost spill
their leaves. You know the names
of them: blue spruce, birch, ash,
the Kennebec. You came back
from the nearly dead for the light
that casts off of their bark and leaves,
for the language of branch and wind.
Lilac dusks people drift through the park
past a statue of a woman launching into flight
as crows hatch from the edges of her skin. . .
Whatever we have or haven’t been, the river sings.
Ode On “One Thousand Year Dawn”
(after John Gerrard’s installation)
The dawn coming is generic, historical, non-committal.
You might have found it off of Apalachicola, Moneghan,
or at the horizon-line of a highway like every other highway,
trucks hurling along—and there you were.
Perhaps in it, a hint of miracle? The kind of light that had been
to Portugal and back, that aspired to the yellow insistence
of buttercups. O light ancestral, that fluttered on the long white
snapping of flags in surrender, on a soldier’s burnished helmet,
light that fell to its shuddering of wave tips to arrive
to this strip of stand and bay, where Marcel Mohab,
who is a patient man, will wait a thousand years
for a dawn undistinguished, pedestrian, and vaguely pink.
Marcel Mohab, digitized, waits, patient as a window frame.
Now and again, he shifts; the tide, in its small tight waves,
readies to rise. Marcel, the nearly immortal, can hear
what we cannot: the way the water sighs.
By the time the thousand-year-dawn arrives, the other Marcel,
flesh and blood, long since will have shuffled into old age,
into the anonymous grave. On his way there, how many hand shakes?
Kisses, missed buses, migrations, bombs in their rage?
The mortal Marcel will forget as we will forget, his own name.
After the centuries have hitched past him, some deus ex machina
of art will gift a dawn that took a thousand years to rise. By then, the idea
of Marcel will be an over-steeped waiting, infinity.