Mud season, March, sludge, the stench of decay, manure from the fields, the swampy marsh along the river with its taint of sewage; the woodpecker's drill droning in the dead trees, the river streaming, a shine of sun on it and the wind north, a pure [End Page 132] element clearer than water. Fire is missing from this catalog. My husband dreams that driving with our son on a country road, they are attacked by bandits who've commandeered a passing train. They flee on foot into his childhood, where, at Aunt Mary's house, they track in burrs a cousin buries under the rug. When Uncle Harold, his father's dead stepbrother, rubs his head with a bruised, blackened hand my husband wonders if he's going to die soon. For weeks there's been a carcass on the riverbank, strewn bundle of fur, dog or fox, at the marsh's edge; now one daffodil has sprung up next to it. The fourth element is metamorphosis's slow fire: the corpse; dead wood breaking down, becoming flotsam, strewn wreckage in the brackish water; brush along the verges decaying into the marsh, river; manure decomposing in the field; last year's leaves and blossoms and life a thick slurry of living dying matter in the mud, sludge. This morning I see that the swollen river's carried away the carcass, left the daffodil in thick muddy water, blooming still. I hear a train on the far bank, moving downstream more slowly than the river.
Sandra Kohler was born in New York City in 1940. She attended Mount Holyoke College (AB, 1961) and Bryn Mawr College (AM, 1966, and PhD, 1971). From 1969 to 1976 she taught in the English department at Bryn Mawr College. Since then, she has taught literature and writing courses at levels ranging from elementary school to university and adult education. Her work has been widely published in journals such as American Poetry Review, the Colorado Review, the Gettysburg Review, the New Republic, and the Southern Review. Her first collection of poems, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, was the winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2003.