Persona September, 17th 2021 by

At the River - By Mara Lemanis


At the River

We gathered at the river
on the banks we spread our bed
plucked wild geranium
blue phlox, rhododendron,
to make sweet our bed
“You look like a river god,”
you burst out on our garden bed
limbs tense,
as buttocks rose and fell
as inner clocks climbed fast
to reach the pitch of noon
gathering at the river

And it rushed in
leaped across our bed
streamed over the fields beyond
pulling me down mid-current
the fiercest channel, irresistible
I felt it eddy round my head
like a massage
before the current leaped back
to flush me out
to fling me forward,
aerating my trunk;
I know this fountainhead
it is my birthmark
the natal sea
of my corporal being
reclaiming me
I feel nothing but
the downstream flush of the river
pushing through
riffling sinews like limp buoys
lifting me, a boneless reef
racing downstream

A floodplain fills the opposite shore;
rows of maples gone,
the top of a lone willow
peering out, tendrils
sweeping the tidal skin,
rows of vegetation
grapes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes gone,
dismembered fruit braving the undertow
bobbing around the surface flow
shining like sunbathers
as they sink;
the shore invisible now
all saturated floodplain
crops drowned, silt drained
unlike the ancient Nile,
banks graciously furrowed
to welcome silt,
plant succulent dates, figs, mangoes
maize, barley, cotton,
nor like the great Mississippi floodplain
tending wheat, rice, omnivorous cotton,
filling parched ground
like a colossal chrysalis ripening the earth

I sense a drop in density
the floodplain dwindles;
crowding my path
loom steep embankments,
crusted, dry,
I churn into a sluice;
cast out upon a ridge a flounder
fans faint gills as if still gliding under water;
limp remnants of raccoons and muskrats
lie tossed above their native shores;
and the outline of a big-mouthed bass
lies stiff, scales matted in a grill of bones;

Quickly all slows
river gills barely flutter
all is dull, dark;
I feel a slippery husk encase me
the current balks, halts
the banks on either side glare black as dirges;
if I could peel my husk and reach them
from my stagnant bed
I would not climb their deadened ramps;
benumbed, I barely move
limbs ebb from me like oily stumps
could I rear up, I would stir these stumps,
stand up and skate upon
the grim porridge;
A gurgle rises
a stream bolts down the cliffs,
cuts across the swamp
and moves me like a sand bar;
I am rushing again
my gills have closed
the river is in my lungs;

A gulf opens wide
a barrier reef beckons
lobelia, mistflowers, wild columbine
rise on its grassy mound
I reach out to pluck them
but get pushed fast
hurtling over rapids
pulsing toward a broad basin
rippled like a surfing sea;

Far shores ring thick green forests
sycamore, cottonwoods, ash
slaked by groundwater
sponged from the river
as it shed its girth;
The smell of citrus drifts across
another reef springs tall
with hammocks of live oak and hickory
braiding canopies above bright orange trees
scenting the air;
I could cast out and rest here
I could make home here
on fragrant shores;

The river narrows
cliffs rise like palisades
the sky inhales the river,
waterlogged, my oxygen reserves,
my hydrogen, nitrogen
husbanded the river
when I reached noon on its banks;
I scatter phosphorous and nitrogen
to grow the algae that will slow my flow
I am the river’s heart
arteries pumping over parched lands
slaking sterile soil with my blood
I will flow where I must
I will slow where I must
when dams stanch my will

In the distance the sky glows red
I’m streaming toward an island;
an uprooted tamarind is burning
its branches fall past the flattened ridge
blistering the water
the wind blows sparks
that blaze across the shoreline
steam clots the air
the water boils
my lungs grow heavy and contract
fire licks my surf
soars to evaporate me
or choke me with ash

I am destined for dominion
my loins beget the current
I pour myself into the ravening flames
I sink brimstone inside wide calderas
I gather the land
unto myself
and leave a fruited plain
for all that quickens
all that gathers at the river.


Mara Lemanis






Mara Lemanis

Biography: Mara Lemanis is a literary scholar. Her essays have been selected for 20th CENTURY LITERARY CRITICISM and are included in undergraduate student textbooks in the U.S.

She has worked as an archivist for Historical Preservation and with the IRC, assisting refugees in Oakland, California. 

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest article are those of the author alone and do not represent those of the Marbella Marbella website. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with the author.


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