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SEKONYER RIVER by Karen Harrison






We sit on the raft between the boats

where the men wash themselves and their clothes

in a lather of suds and shouting.

Scrubbing and dousing:

skin soap water skin,

white on brown, brown on white,

clothes pasted on the deck.


We are Boulés – a peripheral people.

It’s hot:

the sweat buds on my skin,

blisters and rolls along my limbs.

Clothes and wood, I am only one.

Everything is wet under the dry sun.

I jump,

gasping and bleeding sweat into the brown river,

licking blood from fingers that should have been kept

otherwise dry

for fear of infection

in the teeming water.

I swim

out from the bank, cloudy with slops and soap,

into the racing current of the brown stream.







I no longer try to tell them

that the walls will fall

and the smoke will rise.

Rising even through the shouting

and the sounds of deaths

and the ends of lives.

Hoarse and twisting from the temples

and our choking streets,

screaming at the gods in heaven,

just to make them pause,

just to sting their eyes

who once watched over us.


I will raise the special keening

of a promise kept

and a curse fulfilled.

Through them all I know he hears me

and in marking me

knows it marks me still:

his unspeaking, blinding presence

in that silent cave

on that quiet hill.

Silent in his majesty

who is God of words

and the marksman’s kill,

in stillness watching me.


With his mouth he sealed my eyes

and I saw.

Shining as he kissed my throat

and I spoke.

Through his touch I felt him smile

like a boy:

easing his divinity

in touching my mortality,

an exchange of gifts.


Never did he take from me

what he’d changed.

Subtler to change the world,

not to heed.

Till I choked on bloodied words

and grew dumb,

left them whole inside of me.

Such elegance of cruelty

is what marks the gods.


Yet the choice was mine

and the gifts remain

and I will not trade.







I met a traveller,

a long man with long strides,

who shared some time and coffee with me

and talked to me about the sea.


He told me he had found his voice in the ocean,

in the small, coloured whispers

of the small, coloured fishes

who live and die in the coral

and make no great journeys.


He told me that he knew of the memory of rivers,

of the places where crying

has swollen the groundwater,

so all who drink are reminded

of the taste of sorrows.


He told me that he knew of a sea of forgetfulness

where the water is sweet

on the white, desperate shore.

It rings with echoes of friendship

and the noise carries far.


And I thought

perhaps I haven’t travelled far enough

to have won the water’s stories for my own

or perhaps he is still journeying

and not yet come to solid ground.


Read some poems in Bulgarian

Read some poems by Pilar Pallarés

Read the introduction to From Unknown to Unknown by Manuel Rivas


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SEKONYER RIVER by Karen Harrison is available for purchase through PayPal at a cost of 12 euros including worldwide postage

ISBN 9789543840106


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