by Liam Strong
my father held my grandfather over a river slick with careful fire.
from the banks, Cuyahoga spurt orange peel & sweetcorn.
when he found a town with my name in Ohio he took the turnpike through
to Virginia & the Gulf. eagles lingered above like their country did not matter.
an armadillo in Appalachia scared him half to death. my grandfather
dies the same way every time. i imagine it in the backyard, top of the hill,
where he bent bicycles back to bone. Petoskey stones lined the garden, loomed
like will o’ wisps over the river of the driveway. when i want someone around,
i want the worms beneath us to scatter. you shouldn’t have to ask. his head leaned
on the weight of his chin, & oil wends its way into his hair. he is young again.
you don’t have to be quiet on rivers. something carries on, something bloats wide
then thinned into particle. i trip against any tide, river, ocean.
in his waiters, he was iron ballast. my father watched as every river Kalamazoo
& south became a nettle of sliced peppers. when i want him around, he doesn’t
let the car hum. during winter, ice clings to my steps, & you fall. it’s only natural.
when the water doesn’t want us around, it consumes what it is given. it is always
given. a river that chokes knows something is wrong. once, i spat my throat out when
the Boardman River shoved its tongue into mine. when i reached for water,
all i found was my grandfather, pulling me toward where the fire could hold me.
Liam Strong is a Pushcart Prize nominated queer writer and studies English at University of Wisconsin-Superior. They are the former editor of NMC Magazine. You can find their works in Impossible Archetype, Dunes Review, Monday Night, Lunch Ticket, Chiron Review, The Maynard, Panoply, Prairie Margins, and The 3288 Review.