The River

by Natalie Linh Bolderston

We slide through the brown gut of a river
in a sticks-and-bones boat,

plugging gaps with hair, strips
of her shirt, chewed leaf.

Frilled stars line up like milk teeth.
She reads them, tells me monkey and pig

always clash. I say, no, I am like you.
I tell her how we will both become

the old woman I’ve imagined,
planting cuttings that won’t grow,

swallowing herbs to find our way to sleep.
Her mind skips back over shorelines

and rotting jungles. She looks away, says
war is the ugly things.

Sun coils around her waist. Her hair rises.
I think we are drowning

but we pool into a red clay bowl, a hollowed sun.
I hold her wrist as shadows seep from the cracks.

The world begins to drain. We sink on our backs
like bitter dregs, until all we have

is this day, filed down to an aftertaste.
This sagging sky, beginning to peel.