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Tonawanda Swamps

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As it would for a prow, the basin parts with your foot.
Never a marsh, of heron blue
                                                  but the single red feather
from the wing of some black bird, somewhere
a planked path winds above water,
the line of sky above this aching space.

Movement against the surface
is the page that accepts no ink.
A line running even
over the alternating depths, organisms, algae,
a rotting leaf.

Walk naked before me
carrying a sheaf of sticks.
It’s the most honest thing a man can do.

As water would to accept you,
I part
a mouth, a marsh, or margin
is of containment,
the inside circuitous edge.

No line to follow out to ocean,
no river against an envelope
                                               of trembling white ships.
Here I am landlock.
Give me your hand.

James Thomas Stevens, “Tonawanda Swamps” from A Bridge Dead in the Water. Copyright © 2007 by James Thomas Stevens. Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.
Source: A Bridge Dead in the Water (Salt Publishing, 2007)
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Tonawanda Swamps

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  • Poet James Thomas Stevens, a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe, was born in Niagara Falls, New York. His Mohawk name, under which he sometimes publishes, is Aronhiótas. As an undergraduate he studied at the School of Visual Arts, Brooklyn College, and eventually at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where he earned an AFA in creative writing. Stevens subsequently earned an MFA from Brown University.
    Stevens’s free-verse poetry explores the intersection of colonization, memory, and intimacy. In a 2007 Believer Magazine review of A Bridge Dead in the Water, critic Alan Gilbert called Stevens a “lyric poet of love and its accompanying damage—personal and collective.” Stevens’s poetry collections include A Bridge Dead in the Water (2007), Combing the Snakes from His Hair (2002), and Tokinish (1993). He co-authored Mohawk/Samoa: Transmigrations (2006), a collaborative poetry and translation project, with Caroline Sinavaiana.
    Stevens has received a 2000 Whiting Writers...

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