1. Men and women fish in the brown mouth of Lester River where it joins with Lake Superior. They stand patiently for hours, tongues of water lapping at their dark hip waders. They go out as far as they dare. The river is stained amber with tannin from the pines upstream. The water braces and thrums under ice, over rock all winter. The river flows fast and one-way.
2. The boys who jump into the river from high rocks are usually fine but sometimes break backs, sometimes die. When sirens veer up Seven Bridges Road and stop in just that place, we listen to the silence from our house. Sometimes the people fishing walk in too far, like the man whose boots filled with water. The current carried him out, and he almost went under but didn't. Someone in a little boat saved him.
3. A teenage boy passed through the river mouth last summer. His heart beat all the way down. The water was rolling brown foam after a week of heavy rains. We had never seen the water that high, not even the old people. He stepped into the river and passed half a block from our house. We weren't home and couldn't save him, and his best friend couldn't, nor the EMTs, nor his father who'd already lost a son. The boy passed into open sea and became it.
4. Snow falls on and becomes the water where it joins and merges. Trickle turns to creek and creek to river. The lake remains one size on the map, always taking in. This fall I watch a deer turn to soil by the river mouth, from whole to flesh to bone, just feet from where everything opens. At first I look away but keep returning.
1. Porcelain Girl with Basket and Parasol
My purpose is not to bring rice into town, deflect sun and take tea. I was made to stand calmly with my basket of jelly beans, spider plant or paper clips. I am owned by a lady, never young, who grows older. Her cough, always there in the smoke, grows deeper. Some days she cannot catch her breath. I hear her rasp from among the used tissues, water glasses, pills and cooling soup. One morning her chest is as still as my chest. The plant in my basket dies. Her son opens the door with his spare key. Soon I'm askew in a box with my closed parasol, which open joins heaven and earth. All is muffled by dark, napkins bowls picture frames. There is rain on the roof, thunder happening elsewhere. I was made to wait forever.
2. Crayon Rooster
The crayon rooster misses nothing, not having blinked in 28 years. His beak is a white puck the shape and texture of candy corn. Fluted tailfeathers finish bulbous body with graceful end tweak. Eyes are amber globes with crooked black middles, gaggle flesh-red, crown an arc of early tool. All of him bright wax, smeared and swimming toward that tail rainbow awash. A little white wick sticks out of his back like a warning with dust packed around it. The weight of him, smooth shape, clear eye, contribute to a sense of heartbeat and glance, and if I set him down he'd scuttle-fly across the desk. So I hold him and ask, What's at the end of the world? Only this, he crows, all the same stuff. The detritus of afterlife is your attic. We will float together in space, like now. So we do, my eyes closed, his open.
3. Happy Meal Foot Soldier
My hands hold up the sky yet cannot touch my head. Red boots block interference. Thousands of sisters wait in toyboxes and landfills while the future of Oz sleeps in my kneecap. In a tumble of French fries, I hatch a plan to take over the world. The trials I face with the slimmest of eyebrows could drown a regular person. You and your linear time. Your mommom's brows were just like mine, drawn-on. Her dissatisfaction was yours, and her boundless love for the whole messy lot of the family. You want to wear stitched felt and fight for the queen, to take my place in the catapult mission. You envy my blue skin and dreamless sleep, how I'm my own dark star and don't need language.
He was made by rapt hands new to clay, his body an instinct of pressing. Haunches are jagged and watery glaze is the blue-green of ocean bottom. I look into blank eyes, the only part unpainted and containing rough truth. His ears are the ears of genius, one almost a hat, no need for accuracy in their solid swoop and side dash. His back is a map of puddled color and patched-on pieces. His tail is long and firm as a leg, one back not-foot raised in air, each part open to touch. The crooked blue line of his mouth speaks. Free yourself, he tells me, into each way of belonging. Know you are already formed.
's prose poetry collection Home Studies (New Rivers Press) was a finalist for the 2016 Minnesota Book Award, and her chapbooks include Obscura: The Daguerreotype Series (Finishing Line Press) and Russia in 17 Objects (Tiger's Eye Press). Julie's poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Gertrude, Fourth River, Clackamas Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ekphrasis
and Blackbox Manifold
, among other journals and anthologies. A former Fulbright Graduate Fellow in Vladivostok, Russia, she lives in Duluth and is Associate Professor of Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.