From RIVER ELECTRIC WITH LIGHT
By Sarah Wetzel:
A WORSHIP OF RIVERS
If I must choose a word for you,
let it be river. Not the river’s smoothed banks
that, like skin, give form
to breath and blood, the throb
of twenty trillion red cells wildly
ferrying their burdens.
If I must choose a word for you,
let it be the word
for what flows. Down one river,
a ruined house, down another,
eight empty boats bobbing. Inside a ninth,
there is a girl on her knees, knife
in hand. A kind of river
is running through her.
Because the worship of rivers
is also the worship of a chimney
for smoke, the needle its thread
as it closes the wound, of the wire
for its extra electron.
Because all three are worships
of motion, which is why
I race after rainclouds and trains, the postman
and bicycle messengers. Why I think
wind speaks to me. You,
you don’t speak. Yet you take
whatever I throw in. Which is why
I will always live close to water
but never again by the sea
from which everything eventually
finds its way shore again—
arthritic driftwood, the bones
of dogfish and dogs, and Mr. Levi,
the wristwatch still on his wrist. Which is why
I believe the girl puts down the knife
and she rises, the river
electric with light.
The rain leaves fingerprints
in last summer’s
while just off shore, anchored
the barge that will ferry the lucky.
In one version of my story,
I sell my hair
and the good skin of my stomach.
In one version, I carry you
from the burning car
and this time you don’t die.
The sea with the rubber hose of a river
down its throat
is swallowing as fast as it can.
If you watch long enough, you’ll see that rain
shapes a path in the pane
for what falls behind it—
yet if you put a hand
to the glass,
the water will fall toward you.
Our lives are always half over.
There’s still time.
It’s become tricky to talk about Jerusalem
these days. Tricky, that is, without saying
cinnamon trees and narrow alleys, overfed
sparrows, or Hasidic boys in metal spectacles.
I’ve nothing to say about trees or sparrows
or quaint Jerusalem characters, mustached men
selling talismans. Why don’t you like Arabs,
one asked, when I tried to bargain. Some Israelis joke
all we really need is Tel Aviv and the freeway
to Ben Gurion airport. Let the Arabs and fanatics
fight over everything else. From the roof
of my Tel Aviv house, I can sometimes glimpse
Jerusalem, the gleaming tip of al-Haram ash-Sharif.
Let them have everything else. Everything.
Today’s poems are from River Electric With Light (Red Hen Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Sarah Wetzel, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
River Electric With Light: Sarah Wetzel’s stunning second collection of poems, River Electric with Light, is a work of pilgrimage, a work in search of the sacred and the spiritually significant. Touching down in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Kabul, New York, and Rome, Wetzel’s poems, ranging from lyric meditations to discursive drama, weave themselves from her life as wife, lover, stepmother, and traveler. She names the force propelling her River—“If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows,” she writes. At times joyful, at times grief-ridden, Wetzel’s poems accumulate associatively pulling slivers of secular solace from a world where violence infuses the body, the landscape, and even dreams, recognizing that while: “Our lives are always half over. / There’s still time.” – See more at Red Hen Press
Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. Sarah currently teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome, Italy. She still spends a lot of time on planes, however, dividing time between Manhattan, Rome, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Sarah holds an engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. More importantly for her poetry, Sarah completed a MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington College in January 2009. You can read samples of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com.
Editor’s Note: Sarah Wetzel’s River Electric With Light is enigmatic, transversive, transformative. There is a motion within its pages–between sections and poems, between concepts and experiences–that is reminiscent of the Italian notion of attraversiamo; crossing over, moving on, getting to another place. Be it that of the smallest rain drop or the greatest ocean, be it that of trains, planes, or automobiles, this collection is electric with movement, even in its deepest and most sacred moments of quiet contemplation.
There is water–and the life water ensures–running through this book. Rivers that carry words, ideas, people. “If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows.” And along with this motion comes an unsettled feeling underlying the life of these poems: “Which is why / I will always live close to water / but never again by the sea.”
This collection hums with a delicate, thoughtful lyricism that lulls the reader so that we float along easily–though shifting locales, through political commentary, through mindful meditations on religion, relationship, life and death. Never set or singular–because life is never as black and white as one experience or perspective–we are reminded that “Our lives are always half over,” but, in the same breath, “There’s still time.”