by Margaret Coombs


The river, reflective, pushes westward.
The seams between its tessellations rise

into pointed ridges. Wind roughens
dark, transparent water. I don’t know

what might become of you, River,
when the catastrophe hits.


The low summer sun reflects the forest
into the water. River wears a bright green ribbon.


Does River see the softness
in the shrubbery? Do leaves
know the river is there?
Do they live independent lives
as colleagues? They may be
a married pair, constantly aware
of each other, caressing one another
hello with a splash, a slosh, a dropped leaf

of a different color, fading out of green.
Green, says River.

Tonight I reflect you. Tomorrow
I’ll be filled with mud.


Dear Earth, I heard your murmurs again tonight.
You send messages meant for other species
to help them survive. Scientists measure
what you say and call it evidence, which remains
unheeded, the language they use being too complex
for many humans to comprehend. Statistical applications,
algorithms, deltas and omegas seem a secret told
to our maker. The rest of us don’t know how to listen.


A woman sitting on the river bank enjoys
the chickadees, mallards, and sandhill cranes
tonight and every summer night. Why
does she weep? It’s the sight of you, River—
the threat to your endurance. She knows
none of us will last, not even you. Thank you,
she says. Thank you, thank you.

PAINTING: Landscape Banks of the River by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1874).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My husband and I regularly visit a nearby park that gives access to the river for fishing and boating. One day I noticed that I was tearing up as I stood in front of the river. This five-part poem is my exploration of why those tears fell.

peggy-portrait copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret Coombs is a poet and retired librarian from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the city of her birth located on the western shore of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Manitowoc River. Her first chapbook, The Joy of Their Holiness, was published in 2020 under the name Peggy Turnbull. She now uses her birth name as her pen name to honor the poet she was as a young woman. Recent poems have appeared in Bramble, Your Daily Poem, and Verse-Virtual and are forthcoming in Barstow & Grand and Soul-Lit.