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The Hunger River


ISSUE:  Summer 2012

It was named long before a man shot his horse
for trying to follow him, but that’s all anyone remembers—

not the trees undisturbed by mosquitoes or macaws,
not the useless clarity of the water. Instead they recall

the rubber baron who went mad when his beloved opera singer
died of yellow fever. Even though he nursed her, his body remained

strong enough to carry her to the grave. He used to bring her orchids
and ripe maracuja. She’d sing private arias in her dressing room

while he kissed the inside of her knees. He’d rest his cheek
on the downy hairs of her calf, close his eyes, and hear each note

travel down her chest, round her hips, and roll through her legs
to his waiting ear. A crooked crescent moon scar on her left patella

was carved there one night when she snagged her skin
on an exposed nail during a performance. When she stumbled

and cried out, the audience believed she was crippled by grief
and wept harder. They buried her in her Lucia costume,

and the baron fed his horses champagne, set fire to his villa,
got into a boat, and rowed out alone to the hunger river.

One horse got free of the fire and followed from shore.
When the trees began to thicken, it jumped in and swam

behind its master who raved—I surrender to you! I have escaped
from your enemies
—but the horse did not turn back, even when

the man took out his gun. Adoration is awful, he thought.
Water rushed through the bullet hole and into the skull

like a blessing. No one saw the man again, but the skeleton
of the horse can still be found—white, impossibly radiant,

aspiring to immortality at the bottom of the river. An eel made
its home in the ribcage, flicking its black tail between the bones.

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