North Oconee River, Athens, Georgia
We came to the mill ruins with the raging sun
in mid-hang. Terrapins sunned their shells on exposed
river rocks: this, evidence of unstable
precipitation. Typically the river carries
silt, logs, and rises to cover each stone
outcrop. We skipped between limestone perches over beds
of dessicated lichen; dead clams abounded
in pools of hot sludge, fruit of this sickly body,
symptoms of this overripe cancerous death.
We turned the shells as prayer beads, tallied the dead.
These sea-changes will bare many things even as they
engulf us elsewhere, this display of shells simply
another veil stripped. Today it’s clam shells. Tomorrow,
some golden bug drying atop gasping moss.
Then shoes, coins. Or a snail burrowing in sand.
We’ll lift it, watch it recede to its shelter,
and slip it back into the draining river, which
trembles, grumbles, and thinks nothing of our lives as it
disappears into blooming fissures of clay.
Carson Colenbaugh is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at Vanderbilt University. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Chautauqua, Poetry South, and elsewhere. He was awarded an honorable mention for the 2022 Tor House Prize for Poetry. His ecology work can be found in Castanea.