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after Ada Limón


What I fear most: the burning

sky, never being able to speak


again. The sharp, inimitable voicelessness

of the swallow that knows


she is already dead.



Once, a boy told me

he wanted to write a long poem

about rivers.


Is that what this is? In the cemetery


a child laughs his way around

the mausoleum,


calling to his little sister

He’s dead.

Come on.



Wrap me in tape


and throw me in the river.

I’ll end up in the place

where chrysanthemums grow


out of fox skulls.


Name the bones

for the petals.

Call them Eliza, rain,


teeth. I’ll call it heaven.



In the night, I tear

off my name, skinnydip


in this wine-dark city I never wanted

to call home,


far from my family. I could build

my life here. I could be dead


here. Naked, nameless,


no one knows who I am

anyway. Two wolves

hunt in the dark, and I


am more of an animal, primal instinct

for survival.


I put my name back on.



Now, the river. A riddle.

Is that what this is?

Mixed-up understandings of why


my arms fall into the water.


I am losing myself, thumbs first.

I want to feed the water my body, to be


bodiless. The act of leaving

is graceful, primal, it has become


mine. The river


is always going somewhere. I am always




Thick light, the kind

to fall in love to. The right kind of song


on the FM radio, a song that can stand up


and build a barn

in the middle of the prairie, canvas


for teenage vandalism, can build summer

while it’s there too. A girl draws


her life complete, charcoal sketches

and broken wheat.

The song, a funeral march.



Am I imagining

life or death, refractions

of each other?


These are my versions of heaven.


The river never ends, it bends

and bends until it breaks

into ocean.


He’s dead.


Come on.

Stop writing about this.



A portrait. When the sun falls to the earth,


the pines catch fire

and the whole cemetery burns.

Name it sunset.


I am there. I am here, in this poem,

unapologetic dynamism

of water, I will not burn.


Let me be a force of nature.


Let me never die.

Wild animal, and powerless, and magnificently

continuing. I will sculpt the land


around me. I will bend and bend

and break

into the ocean.


Ben Read lives in Spokane, Washington, where he is a senior at Lewis and Clark High School. His work has been recognized by RiverLit, Gigantic Sequins, and The Adroit Journal, and he was named a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year by the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom. He recently co-founded Ponderosa Literary Journal at his high school. His favorite muse is the river.