Through the coulee a river of cottonwoods runs.
In winter the river runs dry, all but a trickle.
But autumn the water’s golden and its running
drowns out even the real river’s running.
You can breathe inside this water, too, and let
its conflagration raze the brain’s old homestead.
It’s just yellow leaves, though, their stems’ ends
aphid-bulbed, freckled and edged with brown.
A long time ago when God was reading the earth
the angels interrupted, pleading for another galaxy.
He made this stand his bookmark. Some frigid nights
you can almost hear the dusty spine unfolding.
Just a little green, like the nights
when the northern lights perform
Indisputably I recognize the cumulus overhead
as a portion of the night sky the aurora borealis
illuminated years ago while I lay with Liz Charles
in the back of Toby Lawrence’s Westfalia, petting
heavily until Lawrence appeared with a knock
on the hatchback. “The. Northern. Lights. Man,”
an indication he’d made little progress of his own
with the congressman’s daughter in the uncut corn
so I removed my hand from the denim waistline,
the copper button of which I had just undone,
and stepped flushed into the breath-seizing night
under the red-and-green firmament billowing
like gown of light, a mere ten miles from Lansing’s
chained factory gates. Back at the party none could
fathom the kaleidoscopic heavens we described, nor
months later acknowledge what pulsed in Liz’s
brain. Fainting spells soon forced us to, a shaved
head, its tidy box of stitches, a monthlong migraine
covered by ill-fitting wigs, hats. Then one evening
in June we sat on the sidewalk like kids and drew
with chalk. “I’m going to wherever they draw
on the sidewalk all day,” she said. And soon did,
reappearing now and then to swim flirtatiously
through dreams before slipping the subconscious’
grip, so much like this white cloud that eludes
the branches’ grasp before lofting west: the wind-
blown work of her hands—long-traveled, adrift
from parts celestial, a word I haven’t quite relinquished.
Chris Dombrowski is the author three books of poems, most recently Ragged Anthem, in which these poems originally appeared (Wayne State University Press, 2019). His nonfiction debut Body of Water (Milkweed Editions) made numerous “Best Books” lists, and was named a Bloomberg Book of the Year in 2016.