Leveler Poetry Journal
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The Turn of a River Rock


A ribbon of rippled silk runs the river’s length

where water touches shore. Hypnotic wavelets

caress your willing feet like heartbeats. You

don’t think to leave until deeper water calls.


You’ve heard of large rocks imprisoned in clay,

so you dive and turn a rock, unprepared

for life that’s there, or the certainty of death.

Tiny snails hold fast the underside; some


are crushed by the turning. Crawdads scurry,

unless an otter visited first; then a hundred

parts of death scatter in a silent cloud.

The startle makes you cling to the rock.


You can’t return it now. The crater begins

to fill with silt. The current is relentless.

How did you think it otherwise? Release,

and you’ll drift over roots brought down


in storms, over undulating grass, and clay

banks too slippery to stand. Mud is deeper

around the bend. Come November, come

weary salmon. All of this was here before

places had names. Whatever you’ve come

to fear, it did not stop your birth. Turn,

in a second fetal roll for shore. Cormorants,

black and urgent, fly low upstream at dusk.


A turtle slides off a log. Ducks settle

in reeds. The quickening heart is yours.

Geese, by hundreds, migrate in the night.

A cottonwood leans over the river.

J.L. Cooper