Arroyo: Flash Flood

By John Unterecker 1923–1989 John Unterecker
The canyon walls close in again,
slant light a silver glare in brown water.
The water is only knee deep, but when the boy reaches the
purple dark, silvered by the smash of brute water—
water will tear at his chest and arms.
The walls of the canyon are brilliant in late light.
They would have glared red and gold for his drowned camera:
splashed blood to his left, to his right a wall of sun laddered
   with boulders.
More than boulders.    Some stranger once fought down this
his rope of twisted dry vines strung boulder to boulder,
clifftop to arroyo.    Escape.    Escape maybe.    Maybe bones
   in the desert.
I think of hands scuffed raw from the braiding.
Almost….  Water froths over the boulders,
tugs at the boy’s footing.       Almost….
The blood cliff to his left blinds him.    Blind nails scrape at
    two boulders,
a torn vine whipping somewhere above him.
He wedges knees against polished rock, pressing up, clawing
    slick stone.
Now.    Rope cutting his hand, he skids underwater:
silver and froth, a film of bright blood staining his eyes.
But he drags hand over hand up out of the water, climbing
    the sun
hand over hand, the ancient vines holding,
boulders for foothold, up out of that canyon.

Source: Poetry (August 1989).


This poem originally appeared in the August 1989 issue of Poetry magazine

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August 1989


Poet, editor, and scholar John Eugene Unterecker earned an MA and a PhD at Columbia University. He is the author of Stone: Poems (1977), the critical work A Reader’s Guide to W.B. Yeats (1959), and the biography Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane (1969), which was nominated for a National Book Award. Editor of the Columbia University Press American Poets series, Unterecker taught at the College of the City of New York, Columbia . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Activities, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams


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