Gut Check

by Jonathan Andersen


Another hemlock down
across the river—the river’s song
almost imperceptibly changed—just a gurgle of change
where a body’s snagged in the driven limbs.

You start at this and pad farther down the trail
but at every frothy bend’s a body
(or bodies) caught and clumped.
Panicked like a beast now

you clamber hard up the rise
pull yourself through thickets, get as far
as fast as you can, and still
the river’s song. You stop
to reason this thing out (you’re an animal
with moral reasons—this makes you human):

they’re already dead
the moss is sleepy soft
it’s not my problem
this forest was open field when the world
was black and white
what difference does a little difference make

It seems you might remember
defiant eyes. You might remember someone pleading.
Or did you dream it? You might remember
feeling confident in a stiff uniform.
Nightmare or no, the question is not
what happened here?
the question is not how long?
the question is not what is to be done?
the question
for you—standing—still but barely
standing now in what you thought was paradise
is what do they mean to you?


Jonathan Andersen is the author of a book of poems, Stomp and Sing (Curbstone/ Northwestern University Press 2005) and the editor of an anthology, Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U. S. A. (Smokestack Books 2008). He is a professor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson and Willimantic, Connecticut.

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