In my year of always autumn, I stole back the river.
Hoarded its rasp and rush as I fled
through the low, hush light of trees,
where the dawn hung on birch branches.
Light stripping the trees to bandaged bark
while I ran, my heart crushing questions
instead of a pulse—how much farther—
was I strong enough to reach the water
without stopping? Calling pain praise
may not be exactly true, but I once knelt for hours
at the base of a splintered cross
until my knees were scraped raw,
legs snagged in cramps while the visiting pastor
snaked his fingers through my hair
as if he could shake Satan loose.
When I staggered to my knees at the river’s edge,
ribs constricted to cords, was my sweat
really so different from his ragged prayers?
We both wanted to drive out something sinful.
Here, at least, I slapped water across my arms
until I could almost believe