Batha River by Aaron Brown


They say this land was once an ocean, but I have not found the shells
          to prove it. The dry riverbed slithers like the trail

of a prehistoric snake, its scales leaving the ruts and cracks along the bank,
          dried and caked, sandstoned by sun and drought.

As a child I came to it, the Batha. I saw a sea of dunes dimpling the surface,
          saw a train of pack animals exposed under the hot season sun,

hooves treading grains like water, fording the absent river at a snoring
          pace—the scratch and rasp of foliated bone on sand,

groan of wood-bundles tied against their blistered backs. Their journey
          was endless, as a boy’s eyes would make it seem, seeing

their trajectory up a hill and through the twisted thorn trees to villages
          I would never go. But I would return some years later,

a few years older, when the clouds emptied like a jug, drops spread by harmattan
          wind, my friends and I traversing the bog and bird-trees,

standing under the mighty haraza, the tree so tall the clouds settled in its leaves,
          the branches marked the four winds. In its roots, we found

stones brought from the depths of the earth, shaped by a thousand years of ocean,
          warmed by the desert sun and our eager hands.

We had waited three months to hear the news: to hear of it coming, coming
          from the southern lake swelled by the rain, turning

and overturning the dunes and rocks and roots, the sand turned to mud
          turned to liquid, risen three feet then ten, the villagers

waiting with fish lines, rushing the word faster downstream than the water rose.
          My friends heard the news on market day, brought it through

my door, and so we came, stones in hand, coiling out our wrists in unison.
          We threw them: a skip, a second, a third, submerged.



Aaron Brown is an MFA candidate at the University of Maryland and the author of the poetry chapbook Winnower (2013) as well as the novella Bound (2012), both published by Wipf and Stock. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Warscapes, Burningword, The Portland Review, North Central Review, Saint Katherine Review, The Penwood Review, Polaris, Illya’s Honey, and The Prairie Light Review.