Rise Up and Send the River / Ben Gulyas


Rise up
and send the river,
fly down
and send the river...

Oconee, called the North Fork,
Oconee,
whose watery eyes begin in the hills,
down side and under the bridge of roads...
Hawkins, Whippoorwill, Diamond Hill Church,
Jefferson River, Chandler Cemetery, Hurricane Shoals ,...
down the plains
of the old Atlantic swamp,
bound down off the southern lip of the Appalachian rise,
harboring a wish for the sea...

Oconee of visceral April, breaching the banks
roiling in the night...
dark burble,
tender, soluble tumbler of sound
through time...

word of late Mississippian Creek tongue...
meaning,
“of the skunk, “
meaning,
“the river people,”
Oconee...
river now thick veined with farm waste,
tainted crystalline shit...
bacteria born of bile and salt,
bacteria into the river,
water and fumes
gone to dry air,
an alchemy of heavy lead
into the lungs of some forgotten face...

Ezra...
Ezra, who wanted to fly up the river
to the one he loved...

Ezra, the forgotten,
who burned down to it,

Ezra, whose own bones
were gone a million years
under the blind distance of the sun...
Ezra, whose foot prints were a life in long, faint twilight...

Ezra who sang...

“If I had wings...”
he cried from his belly,
“in flight I would be
this river would find me
outside the walls,
under the road,
long from the meal...

and one of these mornings,
full feathered
and in the river, I’ll be gone...
fare thee well,
Oconee, I call you
fare thee well...
a movement from the corner of the eye,
I call you
fare thee well...“

Ezra of shaking pain,
hard breath,
running knees reaching the river,
Oconee,
seeking shadows
in dream light...

Ezra, the color of travel by nightfall
across a photograph going into that other world
of pawn and fish signs ...

Ezra Oconee who bathed himself
in phosphates and fertilizers
handed down from 187 years of jobs and schemes...
Ezra Oconee…
the knee of a deer crashing through water in the darkness ...
he formed himself after the image of snakes, the red belly, the
    brown...
then after the shape of hats,
from the flood pole to Victorian haymaker,
a rising bank of clay, or high water
through the gullet of the land...
with shovel
and wood beam,
with concrete, block and tar...
on a solid road he walked,
washed away he walked,
a sand bag along the tide of the broken...
a split beam to shore up
the cracked sun,
the earthic river,
all that’s gone and come to pass,
scattered across the back property,
a time begotten photo in the weathered clay...

where old Oconee sang of Ezra’s muddy knees
and his sometimes,
horrendous,
sad dark dreams...
over the score of time...
over lance and bullet,
lead, rope, blood and vengeance...

West Hale, December 4, 1921...
Sunday afternoon, surrounded by a lynch mob,
a finger of miles from Watkinsville,
they first torched his feet in a fire
to force out a garbled anguish,
an agony for mercy...
and then they shot him, many times dead—
Aaron Birdsong...
earlier that afternoon, 1921,
suspected of having entered a house
to attack a farmer’s wife and daughter,
riled up a lynch mob,
Sloan’s Mill,
in the gully,
their bullets ripping him to pain
in a frenzy of lung and nerve...
they shot him dead, dead, dead...
and that evening they burned his body in a fire
as if he might strike up alive and fly...
he who was spatteral
against the wood pile, the barn wall,
with darting eyes in that last chance,
who saw a guttural vision of escape,
a vision of death...
the cunning beast
hunted and burned,
mutilated by the riverside...

We can sense the blood in the smell the river,
we can walk the flooded waters
where old Oconee sang,
“I have eaten drowned bark
of fish scale and frog...
I have carried blood,
I have carried so much blood...”

and Ezra,
Ezra Oconee flashing like a red winged blackbird
prancing half-afloat among shoots of iron and steel...
with a song not to people, but to life, to birds...
just as pleased to sing to the weeds,
the road, the creekside...
bone or water, channel guide to the bottomlands
peep-frogs at night trading prowling songs...
whippoorwills upending the tense dark...
coyotes spontaneously creaturing, vocalizing
pack throats and open jaws of many bellies echoing...
Ezra of merging silt, skinny drift feather, bark beetle
gone down the river...

down the waters...
the Oconee joining the Ocmulgee to form the Altamaha to the Atlantic,
to the barnacles
a multitude of hands beneath high tide
grasping for a meal
where the sea meets the earth,
in the moon-pulled nape of the river, Oconee,
the gut,
the neck, the throat, Oconee,
the water moving on and through, Oconee,,,
the echoed song , Oconee, Oconee, Oconee…

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