“New River, Pandemic,” “Lines from New York, On the Massachusetts,” and “De-Winter”

Photo by Jo Jo on Unsplash

New River, Pandemic

It will take your breath,

the endless wall,

but you will call again.

Lean out, plant the feet:

cinch of gravity at the waist,

below the wash, the rapid.

Barely visible the white minim

wears down, across the ages—

began withdrawals long before

the lookouts, then one day had scored

the gorge, the lookout, into being:

a hedge, a vista, a cut of shares

for the walkers of the wall—

endless, chafing the grainy

corona, the chew and whittle

of the white shreds in accumulation

taking different times—now the slow soles,

now the hammer battering pneumatic

in the tunnel, gnarling forth

the white-hot dove of Appalachia,

ascending in dust on the tongues

of unmasked men—river diverted, fierce

and viral, through the bronchus

of the mountain. The state confirmed

a case, at last, too late:

phlegmatic, behaving

like consumption in early stages,

every last whit involved:

the national river, its gorge narrow,

its wall endless—the course you make

when you think of your country.

Or are you the rock-wayfaring

stranger—mad for blue water,

at the waist cinched, rappelling

just over the hoary bottoms,

dreaming the endless wall

complete unto dust?

Lines from New York, On the Massachusetts

The distance never much

has closed between us:

training through thick rivalries

of sea towns (Connecticut

never more than now

its true name) my seatmate—

passable, faint, versed

as I am in the low

registers of city

dispatch (see everyone,

look at no one)—

reads until he feels me

rise, then himself rises.

It is a luxury to be

drawn east, Hudson to Charles,

the two remaining banks

where late Americans

entertain options:

two cities more water

than not—vast stillness

gilded with the motion

of ages. To catch a new form

in the flux—the backwash play,

the eddy groped to life by some

divine scientist’s

gigantic hand, throwing

surface-wise her dark

salvific sludge—

some such demotic

mesmerism draws me

straightway to the Esplanade,

mid-November, russet hour,

my skin galvanic

in the vibrations of sea-light.

What comes of surfaces

in the old reformers’ city:

how the wind works things up

back bay: the slight dilation

of the New England vein

in its final harbor—

wise turn, the current

goes inconsequent. The old

littoral breath, first and last

jeremiad of the tawny port,

rouses a congregation

of lost waves, anxious

for conviction. Bilge-beaten,

the esplanade holds course,

yet the very stones whistle,

and I may be yet

blown to Mount Auburn.

Turning I watch the latest

Americans redlining

across the Longfellow—

emergent, bundled, and slow

in profile against the north

sky; light breaking in their train

windows; strands of my hair

like hypnotist fingers

undulating toward

the moving interiors

(it is a luxury to draw)

no penetralia,

says the restless analyst;

see everyone, magnetic

the gate, live the feed,

the great common shouldering

into eternal pallor,

light cloak, the revelator:

our creed, overworn.

Turning again I watch

a jogger crossing Harvard

Bridge; gait like gravel

she flails mad rudiments

against the stalling airs;

from here only her struggle is real.

We could stand more being

driven under—small digs

into the bedrock,

the black welcoming door:

devices, connections

flag: the eardrum clutch,

sanctum tympanum:

our bodies learning the flood-

tide above us, before us—

truer surfaces

are made this way:

experience converted

into thought. The city

of notions, more water than not,

has bottom enough

to restore us unto absence.


Bell to blossom to the work

stacking, snapping back the screens,

he refounds his property—opening

the water lines, hosing every surface—

each act a wager on fluidity and ice,

final frosts and first buds,

securities against the bending

seasons. Laps in and out

of his fathomless garageward


north man rigging, raking,

scrubbing the street chat,

taking measure of the grounds—

he stomps out his stern

matins, the graceless gladness

of a planet prograding home-

ward, middle thick and bowed

with rotation, oblate

over what he finds to do.

About the Author

Ryan Harper

Ryan Harper is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Colby College’s Department of Religious Studies. He is the author of My Beloved Had a Vineyard, winner of the 2017 Prize Americana in poetry (Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2018). Some of his recent poems and essays have appeared in Inkwell, High Shelf, Consequence, Fatal Flaw, Tahoma Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Chattahoochee Review, and elsewhere. A resident of New York City and Waterville, Maine, Ryan is the creative arts editor of American Religion Journal.