River House

by Sally Keith

from River House


The house at the river is rented, not owned.
Still, my mother furnished it. The place is full of her.

The first time we return without her, we have fish for supper.
A painted wooden boat she bought centers the table.

No one says out loud what they are thinking.
Because she so loved candles, we light lots of them.

My father repeats his suspicion that we all must wait
For something like scar tissue to form.

Part of me takes this to mean one day we will talk about her.
The other part guesses we won’t say anything.

Consider men traveling flooded streets,
Whole families herded wherever works,
Churches, stadiums, school basements.

In the footage I’ve only seen on TV,
Nomadic bands of displaced persons cross lands
I’ve never known before, in heat, in rain, at night.


“River” because it moved. “House” because it didn’t.
In conversation we only say “river,”
As in: “Do you want to go to the river for the weekend?”

This morning a crow’s call reminds me how it used to feel
Waking in early spring, some general sense of potential.

Agnes Martin on YouTube sounding like she knows everything,
Says all she’s ever learned is to empty her mind of thinking.
When something appears, you see it. That simple.

I joke with my friend about obsessing over email
As if one day I’ll open my in-box and, poof, the world will change.
Like many jokes, this is and is not funny.

I am very able to be careful deciding on cereal, cheese, and wine,
Whether or not to buy flowers, how much to pay for a chocolate bar.

Where I shop you have to turn left into a lot underground.
The wait to get out can be long, but usually I’m unconcerned.

I’d even say happy. Whole hours have disappeared.


In an email at Christmas, Inma sends me an image.
Her new painting is feet under a spigot.

On a few tiles in the background, a series of bodies
Presumably from Renaissance paintings.
Jesus draped on Mary’s lap is one example.

The torsos and feet are bare. The tiles are red,
The spigot running.

I begin to wonder about the kind of looking collage is.
It isn’t easy getting through storms alone.

That day we didn’t see the red flag and anyway went swimming.
We were laughing. I was looking at Inma, still in the lull

Between one wave and another, and then she was asking,
So I pulled, swam to where my feet could touch

To stand there anchored, and held onto her. Soon
A set of waves arrived and knocked us shoreward.

How quiet afterward, sitting in the last of the sun.


For a short time my mother returned home for what was to be healing.
Each morning my father made her bacon, eggs, and toast.
Sometimes I did.

I’m sitting at a stool across the counter from her eating
What I know does not taste good to her. I try to say I am mad
This is happening. I remember her often then as staring.

She’s looking at the yard where she has spent her life.
The house in the back my grandparents built. Along the fence
Of the pool, the shad tree; to the right, the beech, the boxwood garden.

Those grandparents were her in-laws. Though everyone loved her,
I remember days as a kid when I could feel her suffering.

It’s different when it’s happening to you, my mother says to me.
In no way do I find this comforting.

If it had been spring, the shad tree would have been blooming.
My parents ate the shad roe when the tree bloomed.
This was one of the many things they liked to do.


We start in different corners of the dance room studio.
We run. Pausing at the center, we choose a corner to end in.

After running, the wind you make returns to you.
Flocking is the name for this exercise.

We try to learn what freedom is.

I read that the most fiercely burning fires have holes in them,
But it isn’t air that feeds the flames.

After ruin, repair.

In the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofía,
It wasn’t the whole of Guernica, but in the room adjoining

The series of studies: Composition of the Horse’s Head,
Mouth of the Woman, Study for the Dangled Baby.

If not evidence, what else to take these fragments for.

In Seneca’s letter to his mother, begging her not to mourn
His exiled state, he uses basic reasoning:
No place is any better than another.

Published on August 15, 2014