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Daniel Priest

Laying Down in the River

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On a dare they wade together into the shallows
and lie back on elbows, current catching
in their clothes, ease their heads into mud
that divots under the weight. The water breaks

over his face and fills his mouth. It eddies
in the wells of his open eyes and flickers
the stars so when he breathes he is thinking
of nothing but those stars and the water

enters him, merging with the tide of his breath.
His rivered lungs empty and fill a dozen times
while his body loosens and lets go of itself,
filling the river like the helpless moon

spreading in the ripples. Fish dart through him,
unexpected thoughts. The salty tongue
of the ocean whispers and roots of cypress trees
draw him in, mapping the long taper of their trunks.

And beside him his friend chokes on the water
and rolls over onto his hands, coughing
into the faint reflection of his own face. He sees
the empty clothes snagged beside him

and sits down trembling on the bank to wait
for his friend to run out of the trees bare assed,
laughing, and when he’s dry he wades back out,
calling that this isn’t funny, not anymore.

My Son is Four and Everything is On Fire

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He runs up the driveway
frantic as a penguin
plastic buckets in both hands
says the house is on fire
and his brother
but not the dog
not yet

He’s a fireman today
desperate for anything to save
Whatever he knows a name for
ignites so he can drown it

I’m on fire too he says
prys open my hands to show me
the smoke muttering in my palms
like the Lord clearing his throat

We walk together to check the mail
sweating like glaciers
and come back under blue sky
and burning trees

He drags the garden hose behind us
sprays a path through the Halloween leaves
puts out the letters in my hand
the headlines tucked under my arm
that reignite like trick candles

The cows in the pasture smolder
like penitents and the grass
erupts in their slow mouths
and my tongue’s a hot scab
past burning or naming

But he commands that I watch
as the fire spreads faster
than the water that follows it

and we walk towards the house
as he tells me what’s on fire now
like Adam taking back
the names of the animals
and I say oh no
oh no oh that sounds bad

and everything is on fire now
nothing is consumed
the Lord is trying to say everything
at once the Lord isn’t sure
what he wants

to say his gaping mouth
is black as the open water
between icebergs

and the clouds are burning now
my son says and points
the hose at the sky
dad the world’s on fire

and I put my hand on his head
so he’ll listen and I don’t know why
but I tell him your great granddaddy
used to say the fire’s at the end
of the world

when’s that he says
how much water
will I need

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