the river’s suitcase

helena aeberli


what do you keep in your suitcase? old man river

old man giver going knowing slowing oh-ing 

unbuttoned unbuckled but buckling under

the weight of all your runaway stuff your 

mudlarked luggage your lost not founds 

your faceless TVs tugged tidal into tattered tears

tangling with tarpaulins terrapins tetrapod teeth

then half a sunset (or a Discovery apple)

and almost an entire orchestra — not that you’d 

need instruments to serenade us. conman river 

tiger-fleshed flasher stripper stripped to the bone 

leg of mutton pile of buttons what are you stitching

with your hotel sewing kit missing the thread.

will you stitch the shores together then rip them

up again? you’re a cruel referee with your

Wembley whistle, carding the river yellow as Fanta 

foaming fizzing frothing gagging with plastic. 

rag-and-bone-man river you dirty fibber 

Playboy Tolstoy long lost love letters leaking condoms 

squished over the fins of put-out fish and surgical masks

and straws for sucking slivers of a silvered sky

and skiff blades and switchblades and salt. 

far-from-home river immigrant river spat out

at Southend with your suitcase of trinkets your

unspeakable tongue and your badly forged papers

rippling back on yourself like a curse or a eel 

or a uncaught catch on a battered old bag. 

now tell me, river — where did you come from? no,