Green Hills Literary Lantern



After Confluence


The long slim beans of the catalpa
shrivel in the heat and even the grass looks hurt

beside American River’s south fork,
which toys with the light, and is quick and tumbling,
while from the valley, the north’s dark fork

lumbers in full shadow and swallows the light
with slow pleasure. People picnic,
drink beer, throw a Frisbee to the dog.

At the river’s confluence, there’s the merger,
of two streams crashing surging
in a white-water glory,
which mysteriously, continuously,
rights itself, settles, and runs south,

Downriver you wouldn’t know
that confluence held so much drama—
here where the slow river is sun-splashed,
boulder-strewn, sporting an alder tree
up to its ankles in water.

Under the distant sound of the train to Auburn,
a woman singes the air with her line,
reels and casts again, mumbling to the unseen,
please try this one.

Summer Heat

Sweet cherries of June come to market,
all purple-black and bursting open,
stem to seed, as if sunlight had bitten though them.
And oooh, these lady shoppers, so choosy,
pinching and fingering with delicate aggression,
until they’ve nabbed the perfect fruits.
Smoke and lazy laughter rise and swirl
from the barbecue down the street,

that whiff of normal life, trolling for takers.
From the dogwood, the frantic squirrel barks,
his hidden harvest eaten,
his new one—unripe. The scent of musk rose,
the garbage pail, and one swallow
swallowing the late light,
this light that’s memory’s handmaiden

hemming the end of the day
in fluid stitches. Memory of slippered feet
down the stairs, one tread whining, another one
whimpering, car door quietly closes, a small book
opened. I remember how the mind floats,
evading capture, a blown seed pod.
Outside, over and over, the shirring sound

of a skateboard clearing speed bumps—
Two seconds of silence—the kid takes flight
and crashes down hard.




Helen Wickes lives in Oakland, California. For many years she worked as a psychotherapist. She received an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2002. Her first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2007.