my name is river

by Derek Richard
Wild Poetry Forum
Highly Commended, August 2009
Judged by George Szirtes

carlos says my face
a frenzy of boiling rivers.
this is the only compliment
my face
has ever received.

every morning
since i was five
i’ve begged the mirror to lie.
mirrors are the most honest
people i know.

carlos describes girls.
how they taste like stale popcorn,
feel like an old couch,
how they invite through eyes,
stamp out through scorn.
i’ll get you a girl, someday,

he promises, blind, drunk or crazy.
every morning
since i was five
i remember daddy, acid and sirens.
my cheekbones were soft,
people all around me, screaming

stay calm, stay calm.
carlos calls me River.
it’s one of the kindest things
anyone has ever said.
someday i’m going to get married,
father beautiful children,
drunk, blind or crazy.

the mirror will lie,
the itch behind my eyes will fade
and the frenzy of rivers
will blend into a calming of sea.
dear daddy, i’ll write,
my name is river, i am your son.

The speaker is the really interesting thing here, since he is constructed like a character in fiction, with a voice out of the dramatic monologue tradition. The voice hangs in the air like something we recognize, something with baggage that is not entirely unfamiliar. That recognition helps for the most part since the baggage involves archetypes. The potential disadvantage is that the experience may remain 'out there', like a genre movie in which we know the tropes but stick with it because it is so well made. I am, I should add, assuming that the poem is not a piece of straight confessional. It feels a little too honed to be taken as a straight personal account, which would, after all, bring in its own problems. --George Szirtes