First in Right
A subdivision’s plumbing, a predictable grid, is of greater
worth than irrigating the uncertain growth of stalk and vine,
sees the farmer who sells his water rights, looking ahead.
But with the rivers, nothing moves forward
between the mudflats (the fish bones
un-swimming), the banks’ dry lips,
mouthing something about, My shape made by
millions of years filled with—
The rule of water doctrine is, First in time, first in right,
and it refers not to when the path of the river was cut
but what was set in writing. Contracts protect
the claims of impoundment and pipe—
they account for every drop. So it is too late,
now, legally, to catch rain,
to set a bowl from the old china under the eaves,
to leave a rusted bucket lying out in the grass.
And for the flower, with its undocumented cup,
In a Dry County
men were said to run their own whiskey stills. Maybe
they were criminal, maybe they were contemplative.
Whatever was powered by the current, by the woods
and its fire, they spent days wandering up whitewater creeks.
The women traveled to the next county to buy beer,
saying it was for conditioning their hair,
though the well water could not have been sweeter
and every curl in that quarter was lustrous.
Boys drove back roads drinking liquor and, bottles open,
swerved to the bridges’ edges, coming so close
to sinking into the silt rivers, deep like the registers
new to their voices when they sang the old ballads.
And some girls who grew up amidst all that
abstain and scrimp, scrape by and spurn, still get wet eyes
remembering summer parties in uncut fields. I stayed so long,
when I walked home, my skirt would be drinking the dew.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 20, October 15, 2014.