Northwest Schools of Literature: Texts

9. Carolyn Kizer, “By the Riverside”

Carolyn Kizer, "By the Riverside," in Midnight Was My Cry: New and Selected Poems (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1971), 83-84.

Do not call from memory—all numbers have changed.
From the cover of the telephone directory

Once I lived at a Riverside
1-3-7-5, by a stream, Hangman’s Creek,
Named from an old pine, down the hill
On which three Indians died. As a child,
I modeled the Crucifixion on that tree
Because I’d heard two Indians were thieves
Strung up by soldiers from Fort Wright in early days,
But no one remembered who the third one was.

Once, in winter, I saw an old Indian wade,
Breaking the thin ice with his thighs.
His squaw crouched modestly in the water,
But he stood up tall, buck-naked. “Cold!” he said,
Proud of his iron flesh, the color of rust.
He grinned as he spoke, struck his hard chest a blow
Once, with his fist. . . . So I call, from memory,
That tall old Indian, standing in the water.
And I am not put off by an operator
Saying, “Sor-ree, the lion is busy. . . .”
Then, I would tremble, seeing a real lion
Trammeled in endless, golden coils of wire,
Pawing a switchboard in some mysterious
Central office, where animals ran the world,
As I knew they did. To the brave belonged the power.
Christ was a brave, beneath that gauzy clout.
I whispered to the corners of my room, where lions
Crowded at night, blotting the walls with shadows,
As the wind tore at a gutter beneath the eaves,
Moaned with the power of quiet animals
And the old pine, down the hill,
where Indians hung:
Telling my prayers, not on a pale-faced Sunday
Nor to a red God, who could walk on water
When winter hardened, and the ice grew stronger.
Now I call up god-head and manhood, both,
As they emerged for a child by the Riverside.
But they are all dead Indians now. They answer
Only to me. The numbers have not changed.

Reading the Region Home NW Schools of Literature Main NW Schools of Literature: Commentary NW Schools of Literature: Texts
Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest