The Little River

By SUSAN HARLAN

the great smoky mountains national park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

The Little River isn’t very little or rather
I don’t know what it is little in relationship to.
By the bank the water is smooth as paper
but in the middle my sneakered feet are unsteady
pulled by the current.
Yellow flowers
a black butterfly and then another
a mass of gnats
a hummingbird in light.
My bug spray and sweat are washed off
in the minnow-smelling water
and I can see a school of them
just below the surface
as if they are testing where it is
where it ends.
And what can you say about sun on water?
You could say that it is an afternoon in summer
and not many left.
Or you could say that it is light moved against its will
and carried off into mountains.
You would have something to say about it.
I sit on a rock.
Two people constructed a cairn on this rock
and the water moves around it.
The cairn is precise, balanced.
I watched them build it.
No that one will make it fall, she said.
She was looking out for it
as you can look out for a thing.
Leaves float by
bringing fall to mind
before its time.
I wonder how to compose all this on my rock
how to make it one thing.
We talked about rivers
what they do and where they want to go
so I think that maybe I could place you here
like a rock
picking you up out of the past.
You too were precise.
And what does a cairn do
other than mark and remember?

Susan Harlan’s work has appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Paris Review
Daily, Guernica, Roads & Kingdoms, The Morning News, Public Books, Curbed, Nowhere, The
Awl, Lit Hub, and Atlas Obscura. Her book Luggage was published with the Bloomsbury series
Object Lessons in March 2018, and she teaches English at Wake Forest University.

The Little River

Related Posts

Image of Sewer Bed Beach

Effluent of the Affluent

MARY BERGMAN
We are losing this place twice over: first to money, and then to sea. There are ways to quantify these losses: only 3,200 bushels of scallops were caught this past winter and more than $2 billion in real estate transactions were recorded last year. My parents aren’t sure where they should be buried.

The Hundertwasser House in Vienna

Etude No. 2 and Etude No. 3

KIM CURTS MATTHEUSSENS
in Rome a monumental marble typewriter / ticked out their story into the sky: two lovers / devour time. she lay on the lawn near Trajan's / column. he plucked letters from her dress, / her hair, served them to her by hand, by mouth.

Image of an intensely green trailhead.

December 2022 Poetry Feature: Kevin McIlvoy

KEVIN McILVOY
On mine spoil. In debris fields / of asphalt and concrete and brick. / Upon sites of chemical spills. / Along lifeless riverbanks. / In clonal groves so hardy you / have to steel yourself for years / of killing to kill one acre. / Where construction crews rake off / the surface