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"THE RIVER" (1983)

Originally published in Nebraskaland Magazine in 1983, “The River” is a worthy descendent from the family of poems Welch once called “love letters from sons to fathers.” The poem’s familiar landscape of sacred places haunted by the sacred ghosts who inhabit them, though, is not without a unique brilliance in how Welch treats the deceptively rapid passage of time. With one hand, the poet paints sincere strokes celebrating the deep, finite winter hues of “buckbrush” and “trees” that blend with the “surgeries” of the man who “moved in this river;” yet with the other, Welch scrawls away the reader’s sense of seasons and minutes, leaving us “unraveled” by how quickly “slews grow brittle,” how fast “time is escaping.” Welch immediately sets in motion both portraits, with early images of the sun’s marathoning “pale flare” and “wind trailing the edges / of minutes” that canvas the just-barely “perceptible” journey from light to dark, from limber to brittle. “In the deepest channels” of reverence, the poet tracks the microcosm of Dutch’s upstream journey, “his back to the west,” while zooming out to the slow but steady vice of winter squeezing the sky to “a single hole / in the clouds.” In short lines comprising patient stanzas, Welch guides us delicately through the “pleasant doom” of a slow river walk.

Nebraskaland 1983
The River (for Dutch Welch).png
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