The Batture

The batture’s water and sand disappear
when water swells the river,
heat’s portion of a northern winter.
Under willows cropped up
since our last cow is dead
and carried to the batture
to be taken by the water
clean into another season,
we sit on green granite
piled deep enough to keep
the batture dry one more week.

We don’t say so but we wait
for the swollen body
to appear before us, we want
the torn leg to distract us,
the loose arm to show us where.
We’ve always known which way
the water runs, the differences
among earth, air, water
and whatever the horizon offers
that is not actually there.
We want to be the ones
to identify the missing person.
We count the reward we’d earn.

There is a family
in southern Minnesota
keeping a closet of dry-cleaned
suits, a mahogany high-boy
of ironed shirts, folded
undershorts and sweaters.
In the ashtray that says Welcome to Nevada
are the coins he left
without thinking,
the only clue which tells his family
what they didn’t want to know,
he might have known
what he was doing.

We want to be the ones whose call
is first in a series of related events
which will end we hope in the family’s
satisfaction with the coroner’s
identification, and though it is old-fashioned
and no longer done in this country,
we’d like to think the pennies
from his pocket will be mailed
to the morgue, polished to
their copper finish, pressed
to float forever on his eyelids and make us
take a second look as the light
hits them and they beautifully glitter.

We think how glad we were
when we first saw him he floated
face down in the water
which a few moments earlier had been snow
his children sledded and slipped on.
Light beats gravity, lifts
these young trees from the water.
This is where we watch time,
mark the spot across the water
which is the red flag
we hope calls us
come across and save us.
This is twenty-eight states.

Reprinted from All You Have in Common: “The Batture” by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press Copyright © 1988 by Dara Wier.
Source: All You Have in Common (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1984)