Sunday Jul 14

ReavesDiana Diana Reaves grew up in southern Alabama along the banks of the Chattahoochee River. She holds an MFA from the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing and Translation, where she was a Walton Fellow. Her poems have most recently appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Meridian, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, and Raleigh Review. She lives and teaches in Gastonia, North Carolina.

Riverbank Revival
                        for my siblings and Bo

We rest against sun-
            bleached lawn chairs,

raise warm whisky’d-up
            pine needle tea

to the half moon—our mugs
            like winter chimneys

panting. Later we heave
            rocks; pitch our wishes

into dark water; watch
            mollusk shells sweep

downstream, our breath
            eddying, spirit-charred.

Brother and sisters,
            we sing At the river

I stand; guide my feet,
            hold my hand. Take my hand,

precious Lord; lead me
            home. Sister stares into clouds:

                        Y’all do that one if I die first.

I know that feeling when
            you listen to doves’

early pining as eggs sputter
            happily in the pan, to a wind

chime’s trills in the midst
            of thunder and rain

plinking a tin roof.
            All those notes at once.


Our friend Bo drowned
            in the river years back,

lived again. Some stranger
            fishing by the dam pulled him out.

I’ve never asked him
            if he fought for very long,

or if it just happens
            like they say:

Do you let the water in?
            Are you at peace suddenly

standing sun-bleached
            outside yourself watching

a nighttime current summon
            the old vessel farther

down, reaching for nothing,
            swept away in voices

of foam and churning, boulder,
            loose root—all those notes

at once? Have you been made
            ready to leave the earth behind?

Run out of breath and left
            lonely for a home

                        only the sky affords?

Nocturne for Sister

We take the shortcut home, the way
            we did as girls, trespassing
on the Lanier farm and edging
            through the hay bales fat

like spools of twine thrown
            out into the fields.
Beside the fence, we joke
            we’re too old, grab ahold

of each other, bowing at
            the starry altar of barbed wire.
Used to, we’d slip ourselves
         right underneath without a snag.

And now in our winter coats,
            our scarves catch rusty
barbs and we shake with laughter
            so deep it’s silent:                                  

we’re stuck, grown women
            down in the dirt of years
unable to breathe. We turn for the woods
            waking a gray fox,

her body a nest in the bare oak.
            She lifts her sterling muzzle
from sleep—tawny ears rigid
            against the twilit fog—

and leaps quicksilvery into the forest
            brush where she dissolves,
a confession in the dark.
            I think again of the night

I left you behind me, Sister,
            ran ahead, how I’d been
running from you already—
            long legs, the overnight miracles

of breasts, lip gloss, perfume,
            locking you out of rooms.
When I turned back, you looked
            so small on the trail.

I took your hand—you snarled
            I hate you I wish you would just die
and clawed my arm, so deep, silent.
            Maybe you’ve forgotten how

you walked beside me in a fog of hate
            the whole way home, my arm still
bleeding, you heaving,
            unable to breathe.

Part of me wants to ask
            if you remember, but I’m afraid
you do. You’ll say you never
            meant it, but I want you to

mean it, to—even now—
            still hate me then
and have someone who somewhere
            in my life loved me

like that, with such abandon,
            unleashed and rigid, wishing me
dead before I dissolved or ran so far
            ahead you were lost without me. 

With running starts we leap
            the creek and near it kneel
to tracks so small on the trail, moonlight
               unraveling across them

down in the dirt, years
            of everything we’d wished for
frozen hard in this ground,
            our scarves reaching,
                                    reaching in the wind.

Voice Lesson

A girl   singing scales
at the piano   

instructing me to lie
down   you’re still
reaching for the notes
step on them
her hand against
my stomach   waiting
for my belly to swell
her hand rising then
sinking   as I
exhale the soprano
line   a wheeze
clumsy   unstable   these
steps and here
we are          

walking away   me
staring out windows
mandevilla blooms
cascading down
the trellis   like flames
hummingbirds midair
tiny beaks and tongues
so eager to drink   as I
go on   alone   teaching
myself   to breathe

Wind Shear

            Together we lug salt
blocks to the backwoods
our tomatoes   wire caged  
beside the window     a gift
to your mother   bedridden
the final stage     we planted
tomatoes now   ruddy as numb
fists     quiver hot     against
the ground     half-eaten
oozing     that doe for sure
not a mile off     yet
shit son   all this   work
for what     we can’t   keep    
her   at bay   just scattering
corn and blocks     out here
            Girl’s hungry for
a body   skin   sun-
set like a dirt dauber’s brain
the matter   because
the body     is memory  
it’s flame even without  
a head     it moves
            We watch the news
blue   light   water   in the pan-
handle    another     system  
a mother   even in   weakening
the strongest   inland   eyewall  
quiver hot landfall   miles off
yet   can’t keep her   at bay
the gulf   a code   neural
as much as   tropic
between the trees we cannot see
we see
            Her eyes   more
glowing   green   rapture  
those tomatoes   ahead
breath loops from her snout  
you smoke   I touch the bite  
into pulp   tomorrow we
could all be   brain   half-eaten
suns     all be     remnant
heaps of salt
            Before bed before
your mother   sleeps   tumor
we cannot see     the matter
will it   to   dissipate   gone
and done it   now
we wire we cage
you touch   security   another
system glowing   blue
shit   son   hot   mechanism
another     code     more light   water
on your eye   wall     the only
voice a truth a lie   scattering     out

Crossing the River

It is winter when your mother dies.
            I want to tell you there are no gates

to heaven, that death is a coldwater
            creek we waded in early spring.

How to pull you from her graveside,
            make you see again the goldenrod,

the bluebells risen on the clay banks
            of Halawakee?


All my life I’ve sung

hymns about Glory, a place yonder
            we’ll someday wander into.

Hard to imagine anywhere
            but our camp at Bartlett’s Ferry,

lying with you on a trail of creeping myrtle,
           that invasive vine spread beneath us,

let me, let me falling warm-lipped
            against my ear:

we felt, those mornings,
            the swift, icy drift of the river.


I want to hold you there at sunrise,
            in the deepest part of the water,

tell you she’s sprung from a long-held breath,
            wandered drenched and new

to the other side and through
            the woods, by and by to stand

in a meadow where she’ll find her faith
            made sight: two cardinals, red and brown

at her feet, unstartled in the tall grass,
            their orange beaks lifted, opened for seeds.