White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Rich Ives
Rich Ives is a winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Airmagazine. His books include Tunneling to the Moon, a book of days with a prose work for each day of the year (Silenced Press), Sharpen, a fiction chapbook, (Newer York Press), Light from a Small Brown Bird, a book of poems, (Bitter Oleander Press), and a story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books).

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Rich Ives


Someone asked the river why it lived among these people.

The river answered, "Angels are combing the pebbles’ hair," but it didn’t have any words to say this with.


Someone asked the river why it kept on carrying things to these people.

The river answered, “Everything on the earth is hungry. The earth eats, but it does not know how to take what it needs alone.”


Someone asked the river what to do with everything the river had left behind.

The river answered, “You can take more with you than you can possibly know.”


Once more the moon said, "Meet me at the river."

Once more the earth said, “I will hold you while you gather what you need.”

Thomas didn’t know you what these voices were bringing him. He enjoyed the whispering and took pleasure from what they brought him, but he didn’t really know what to do with it. Their language was full of reflections.


Farmer Johnson’s wife dreams about an executive, with a screaming briefcase, who purchases a wife at a carnival in Brazil. Is the briefcase the purchased wife? Some flashes of light pass and several years of dreamtime, and other executives also retire with carnival brides. All the brides dress in blue, honoring the skies of Brazil, from which they descended. The wives the blue brides become dress in red and seem to be bleeding. They are not in pain. They manage the blood routinely, as they comb their unruly long white hair. They seem to be awarded a kind of

pleasure in managing it. They nod as they take care of the blood, as if each time they had just learned something interesting.

The executives grow restless. They’ve got things under control, and there are no more wives for sale at the carnivals in Brazil. Finally, they have time to look up at the sky. They convene a meeting to discuss it.

I don't suppose you know where the clouds went," one of the executives interjects, suffering, at the special meeting, and they resolve to take action. They slosh home through the rain only to find their wives have melted. The sea remains the sea, but now you can just barely see in it that it is a red sea. The river is on its way to the clouds. Perhaps it will rest now.

The executives begin raining. The executives have not adequately considered the weather’s evidence.

Farmer Johnson’s wife believes she has awakened. Her nightgown is wet and covered with small red blossoms.

The local water's history of sighs begins with the

sigh of self-pity. It reaches through the beautiful sad darkness to its mother, who restrains her sigh of boredom to sacrifice a few of her own dull moments to the child. The child is always arriving with a sigh of relief, his innocence further abandoned with the first echo in each new gurgle of falling. No, it’s not self-pity, but a wonderful old variety of resignation.

Let’s call it acceptance.


The water visits the inside of wrinkles and freshens the stale corners of deer. The water discusses progress with rocks and street-corners. The water comforts the mounds of little passengers gathered by the wind’s silly hoarding. A little gossip is good for everyone, says the surprise of a rainstorm, just listen to this . . .


The water titles its new poem "Psychological Manipulation" and changes the baby water in Farmer Johnson’s fish tank, where the sighs have been growing green and turning in upon themselves.


The majority of the minority who voted have re-elected the useless mayor. His Honor the Mayor practices his fly hammering techniques, punctuated with tiny exclamations of grief. The exclamations are thought of as attractive by the voters, and they form a long row of acceptance appreciated by the electorate, who have learned the hard way that a mayor who interferes with the progress of the rain is worse than a mayor who does nothing.


Thomas always enjoys a long drink of the water. His body welcomes all that the water brings, and he frequently looks into the sky to see how far the water has traveled. Along the way it has become another water, taking on characteristics of each thing it has passed. There are many stories inside the water, which is now inside Thomas.

Thomas lets the water return to its ever-changing home, but not before taking something from it.


In this sense, yes, Woods Lake is a port city, somewhere among the pleasantly repetitious

farming communities of northern Nebraska, too small and redundant to appear on most maps. The history of water is written here in the memories of all its dusty citizens. Brush them off and watch their crops rise up to the sun in their eyes. Perhaps Thomas can find himself here?

Listen to the water’s constant embarkations, rising to greet you in the slow gestures the recently native bodies engage in as you visit the need, nervously offering itself in their generous handshakes. Join the dusty citizens, storming into the raging light of a thick slow Midwestern afternoon, intent upon the progress of the tiny barges that carry their cargoes of dreams. 

Are these journeys necessary? Inside a body before its innocence begins to evaporate? Lick the past and water steams from your pores, your body afloat in its own juice, suddenly buoyant.


The dream’s anchor catches on something you cannot see, a moment that refuses any significance beyond its own existence. Yes, there are many of them here, between the past and the future, where

the earth and the sky are mating.


On one of those days when the world says look at it my way and you take it further inside yourself.


February 21, 1954. A photograph of Thomas Chandler appears in the Woods Lake Weekly News. Perhaps you begin asking yourself the question beneath the poorly reproduced photograph: Do you know this man?


A red ribbon flutters from the lowest branch of the tallest tree in the park. Who has left it there? Why?

Some of the people who live here intensely dislike the color red and some associate it with violence. The red ribbon lifts and falls, lifts and falls. Like a leaf that will not let go. Is it the red of new growth? Green still unsheathing itself?

Or is it the red of fall, the red of life departing? The red of blood coming to the surface, where it

does not belong?

A child could not reach the twisted branch it clings to.


Some of these people live alone and their mates haven't noticed.


Some of these people have a hunger for shadows and they eat them raw with no sign of concern for anyone who might miss them. Sometimes the sun seems to linger at noon in the center of the sky before descending slowly to the afternoon task of replacing the devoured shadows. By dusk the sun has moved beyond the hunger of the shadow eaters, whose own shadows have grown from their bloated stomachs, to devour them, and this these people have wrongly called "sleep."

Only a few have not forgotten that "sleep" is older than they are. Only a very few have refused to "wake up." These separate few are known as "prophets." Some of these prophets have been mistaken for their shadows and devoured.

Yes, some of the shadows are having problems with their relationships.


Now two red ribbons flutter from the lowest branch of the tallest tree in the park.

Flutter and do not touch.


I think of you leaving. A dim glow withdraws from the evening’s ceiling. In the bedroom my daughters, not twins but only a year apart, talk softly about a kitten killed by a falling tree.

From the hillside I can see my small family moving in the silent house, where everyone is sleeping. Even my own body is there among the others. I can see the outlines of the bodies, parents gesturing over a table in the kitchen, speaking in hushed tones of how things have changed. How can I know what they are saying if I am not in my body? Has my body really produced two more still forming creatures? Is this what we have done together, or am I merely the necessary contribution of an outside existence that intrudes

from time to time on the life of humans? Could so much time really have passed so quickly? I listen, but I seem to have no desire to participate in their conversation. I feel it moving through me, but it stalls there, somewhere inside.

After a while a dim glow spreads across the eastern sky. A kitten pads lightly over linoleum. I can see clearly now through the skylight the outline of your body next to that place where mine was. Am I remembering yesterday? Am I remembering what brought me here to this hillside? Am I only remembering some small part of remembering? Do I forget and have to start again? I do not know. This body is not mine yet. It does not behave as the other bodies of the people living here do.


The next night the same confused dream returns, and we do not speak of that dream either.


Because there is a room inside that no one else enters.

Because each of us lives alone in that room.

Because you cannot leave that room the way you came in.


Because it’s difficult to agree even with yourself.

Because experience grows new limbs, no matter how limited the experience.

Because these limbs have their own thoughts.


Because our limbs are not our own and reach beyond us.

Because we borrow understanding even from what we do not experience.

Because there is so much experience still waiting.


Because he thinks she's got a leather brain.

Because she thinks he's too handsome to be kind.

Because they think this way.

Because of her anguish.

Because of their missing beasts.

Because of their hearts.


Because of the liquid surge as they melt, inside to outside, where they have both lived till now.


Because of an animal-paw ashtray perched on the edge of the stair.


Because their children are angels.


Because she is married to someone else.

Because angels only appear to be born as humans.

Because humans can be born as angels.


Thomas Chandler opens the battered white

mailbox and removes the letter with no return address and opens it, carefully, as if something inside might be lost if he were to handle it wrong.

The red ribbon flutters between his rough, gentle fingers.


And yes, people here in northern Nebraska live in both the past and the present. But they have modern entertainment and their ventriloquist is greatly admired and respected. It is not yet widely known that the ventriloquist has been suffering. His problems can be taken as a part of his act. At first it was only a word or two and the ventriloquist assumed he had made a mistake, but after awhile, the dummy was saying many things that irritated the ventriloquist; babbling about his master’s incompetence, insulting his master’s friends, propositioning their wives . . . When finally one of the wives accepted, the ventriloquist stopped speaking. The dummy, who named himself Howard, did not.


Howard said:

Once we learn something, we hold tight, not realizing we must constantly re-learn it, or it becomes false. Even a table or a dead animal changes. Everything that waits changes. Words most of all.


Some of the people here thought this wise.


And then Howard “The Prophet” began speaking as if each utterance were an individually wrapped token of affection patiently waiting for its appropriate moment of release.


And so Howard the Prophet said:

If it's important enough, it never sleeps. But you must sleep if you expect to find it. You must learn every day, again, how to see, and every night, how to see farther. Each morning you must crawl back with a more useful burden. You must let what you know process itself. It must wait for its own time.


And when asked to explain, Howard said:

Perhaps the strange thoughts I’ve had were bathing in the fruited dream and conversing with water to clarify the meaning of the sky’s encouraging warm entrance into the delightful cold stream of another certainty tugging gently every day at the center of possibility.

If you really want to see who you are, use a stone for a mirror. Look longer than you can look. Look for the branch that holds the fruit that is sweetening itself.

Even the birds know this story.


Howard the Prophet on his own future:

Only the greatest bravery contains the right amount of fear.


Howard the Prophet, introduced to the local hermit, offers the empty glove at the end of his wooden arm:

Your hand is a boat, waiting for you to climb into it and sail the world.

Mine is only a dream.

Your hand shall hold the ripe flavor of its aging dream.

Mine could not wait for itself.


But all too quickly Howard’s edge returns.

And, of course, he steps over it.


Howard the Prophet on his own wisdom:

The brightest light comes first to the blind.


And Howard in the spring by the swollen river:

Always leaving, but never gone.

And he speaks it like a question, lost in the river’s roar.


And Howard to himself, sleepless:

Is anyone really naive enough to be wise?

And he drinks it in as if someone else had said it.


Howard the Prophet on the mayor's visit to a sister city to discuss the need for international cooperation:

This animal leaves tracks but they lead nowhere.


And when pressed on the prospects for political change:

Shit is not a thorn, but step on it and you limp.


Out at the reservoir dust divides its hungry attentions, clings to the battered Oldsmobile rusting in the tall grass. Six Indian teenagers launch themselves, lurching towards the water from six wrist-thick ropes tied to the trestle, and they hang

there in the air like six opened bottles of quickly aging wine.

How long can a moment be shared?

Must we fall to understand it?

Whatever we might try to call down from the sky.

Whatever we might keep.

Whatever we might wait longer for.


Thomas Chandler holds the red ribbon, a temptation.

If he were to speak now, that voice might belong to another. It might speak of the textures of time, how they change with age, how they grow stronger, how they mature. It might speak of what one man holds for another, the awkward process of awakening inside.


Sunlight sparkles from the fresh rain collected during the brief summer storm in the deepest impressions.

Taste it.

Leave it to become something else.

Now we have something to follow.










Copyright© Rich Ives. White Whale Review, issue 8.1


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