Pause at Dusk: Dragging the New Eden River for the Body of a Missing Canoeist by Ralph Culver

Pause at Dusk: Dragging the New Eden River for the Body of a Missing Canoeist

Downriver an eddy took the skiff
where it notched in the stone off the eastern bank.
I watch from upstream as a red cross rises
from it, then another, stretched taut
and stark on the green of the boatmen’s coats,
and recall two targets on a gray ridge,
long ago. I had just unstrung my bow
under the sun’s last bolts
and bull’s-eyes’ glare, and marked
how every flare of color in the dun world draws:
the bee to the mountain flower, the rifle barrel
to the gaudy square of cloth
pinned to the chest of the prisoner.
Through that remembered brilliance,
blazed, they offer themselves,
but a tension to the current pulls me back.
I lean to the line and see—
as though I were the one who had seen it—
the paddle a man has spotted from shore
near Bristol, four miles below:
white, a carmine band about the blade,
alone in a circle of water.

by Ralph Culver, first published in Vermont Literary Review.

Editor’s Note: This poem functions on the edge of tension, carefully drawn via color imagery and narrative.

Seamstress by Ralph Culver


Belief in the thread consoles, redeems. The warm
ease of your ceaseless hands draws down
the twill-flecked light. Beyond the windowpane,
stars shred themselves and drift across silk, seams for
your later eyes to follow. Now,

deft in work, the blue irises feed through
each pass of the needle, riddle the
carcass of the cotton-flower. There is
always work, and always another hour. Your
spare form, clothed in a loose blouse and
the sweating air: stale and harried, yet
rising, constellated with the remnant sparks. You,
only sewing. Something else is joined together.

“Seamstress” is an acrostic poem dedicated to its subject, whose name is
spelled by the first letter of each line.

by Ralph Culver

Editor’s Note: A portrait of a person can be done with words—this poem goes beyond description and into movement and character, giving the reader a sense of purpose instead of a mere reflection.

Signed Self-portrait: February by Ralph Culver

Signed Self-portrait: February

Knee-deep amid the clambering snows, the old
broom at parade rest in my grip, ice-bound,
I remark with odd admiration the gray rampart
the city plow blade grades across the mouth
of my driveway. From the porch roof by an empty
suet cage, a downy woodpecker goads me
with a glance. Well, he can wait a moment,
and so can my shovel, wherever it may be
under all this whiteness. With these bristles
seasons past have frayed and fretted to a bevel,
the broomstick vertical, I brush the only
Chinese ideogram I know—increasing joy
into the surface of the snow beside the roses
patiently waiting in their burlap robes.

by Ralph Culver

Editor’s Note: Deep into a September heatwave, the cool snow of this poem reminds me that every season has its moment where patience is necessary. I might as well scratch increasing joy into the dust on the sidewalk today, and practice waiting, too.

Photo courtesy of Ralph Culver and Chickadee Chaps and Broads.