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FLOOD
 
 

Yesterday, my mother 
drove me to see 
a buffalo herd beyond 
an electrified fence. 
Once hundreds of thousands 
of their ancestors 
roamed over the prairies 
of the Arkansas River. 
Now thanks to new breeding 
those rough hairy beasts 
can roll in the mud 
from the recent downpour.

We had to go over 
the river to get there. 
It was swollen and swift, 
and its slate-gray rush 
had covered square miles 
of cinnamon, dove land, 
and silted living rooms 
of white farm houses, 
and submerged the fields 
of new com and wheat stubble 
with glistening lakes 
like huge guitar picks.

As a kid in the house 
I grew up in, for several 
springs it flooded the two 
rivers we lived between.

I remember all night 
hauling gunny sacks 
and filling sand bags, 
and building a back-heavy wall, 
but still it poured through 
and canoers came by 
and the water rolled in 
to the door across the street.

As an adult in Western 
Kansas, I knew a man 
whose job it was, because 
Colorado had dammed the Arkansas, 
to measure the depth 
of a river that often 
was just a depression 
in a working wheat field. 
He touched a chord 
that kept me at a distance 
from any false order 
that I might support.

Now I'm watching the reflection 
of the sun on the Walnut. 
A polyphony of ripples 
washes over the flow 
or eroding sand channels. 
It moistens my lips. 
It roars and cools my lungs. 
I respond to particular 
sound improvisations. 
I live on the edge 
of a river whose urge 
is to stay alive.
 
 

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