Back to Issue Thirty-Five

The Undrowned World


For fourteen years, my sister and I sailed down a river.
She was starboard; I was port. Together, a complete cosmology.

We sailed through meadows of buckwheat and yarrow.
We sailed through valleys of fog.
Sometimes, I went mad and my sister transcribed my gibberish with both hands
on a piece of willow bark
before sending it away in an osprey’s beak.
Sometimes, I braided fish bones into her dark hair.

We were trying to establish a point of view, the way water establishes itself
at the base of a waterfall.

At night, I slept and she watched the stars, or I watched the stars and she slept, or we both
watched the stars and neither of us slept, or the night was cloudy and there were no stars.

I said, moonlight is a form of radical empathy, and she said, distance is the color blue,
and I said, watching an airplane take off is the best cure for depression.
God is a mountain in translation, she said,
and I thought about this for a few days, ultimately nodding in agreement.
At one point, she had a son,
and, like a butterfly, he was born with the memories of our forgotten childhood.

When she said sister, I said, my body like a boulder against your bright pain.
When she said love, I said, a type of photograph.
It went on like this for hours. I know that I know nothing, the river said.

Every morning, we watched the sunrise over the undrowned world.
Every morning, we reinvented the river.


Austen Leah Rose is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, 32 Poems, Narrative, Zyzzyva, The Sewanee Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. She was the winner of the 2018 Walter Sullivan Award from The Sewanee Review. She received a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from Columbia University. She currently lives in Oregon and is working on a dissertation about Rilke and eco-bereavement.

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