Nebraska Center for Writers

INTO THE RIVER CANYON AT DUSK
by Neil Harrison

This late
thereís little to see
but the fading trail,
its sharp drop in to the river canyon
no more than a feeling, going down
a thousand feet of switchbacks,
sure of nothing
but water forever
carving the chasm floor.

Thereís a sense of peace
felt nowhere else
but in this
dark descent,
mind dead to the invisible world,
breath hollow,
automatic as a pulse,
boot after boot
plodding down the pillowed dust.

Below,
in that other
time and place,
the trout Iíve come for
cruise deep pools
under mountain shards,
fanning the isinglass
bottom of night.

In the morning
when they rise,
a school of scattered prayers
flaming from the rocks,
I will kneel in the gravel
with my first fish from the river,
as unselfconsciously alive
as the piscine dreams of God.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2005
by Neil Harrison


NAMING THE LAKES
by Neil Harrison


Sometimes at night a younger world awakes,
sounds and scents and scenes Iíd long forgotten,
and I can hear Olga naming the lakes,

Hackberry, Dewey, the Alkali Lakes,
Watts, Duck, Rice, Dadís, Schoolhouse and Pelican.
Sometimes at night a summer world awakes

with Ernest telling me to watch for snakes
mornings on the Rosebud reservation,
and I can hear Olga naming the lakes

we plan to fish — He-dog, Beeds — as she makes
coffee, French toast, scrambled eggs and bacon.
Sometimes at night a somber world awakes,

vast concrete dams flood the Missouri breaks
for miles above Pierre, Ft. Randall, Yankton,
and I can hear Olga naming the lakes,

Gavinís, Oahe, and those long, blue aches
ring true in the gray light of that false dawn
those times at night when the grave world awakes
and I can hear Olga naming the lakes.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2005
by Neil Harrison


REDEAR SUNFISH
by Neil Harrison

Your friend spends a week up in Canada,
comes back with epic tales of trophy fish,
but midway through a monster northern saga
he loses you to this image from the past:
her tackle a cane pole, her bait a red worm,
an old woman lifts a sliver of brilliance
off the mud bottom of an old stock dam,
out of tepid shallows, through a rug of moss;
her thin line shimmering, a strand of light,
she lands her catch beside a 4-year-old
who laughs, drops to his knees in the dirt
and reaches for that slick, cold shock of gold,
a thing so alive an electric shiver
shakes him at the core and leaves this scar.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2005
by Neil Harrison


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