The Day of a Girl

by John Riley
The Waters
First Place, October 2017
Judged by Michael Larrain


A few miles from here in a town marked by this shallow river
men stopped working the forges decades before I came to sit
on the riverbank and wonder how many summers
the water must lick the stones to turn them to powder.
Before tomorrow comes undone I’ll walk in the morning heat
beneath the slanted sun
not once wishing it was a full winter moon
ending the day of a girl
who will soon be attached to a man who plunges
freshly shaped iron into water
gone dead beneath dead rainbows.
Her hands are red from scrubbing the lives of others.
It is the end of a thought that matters she was told
and because there is nothing unceasing
she cares to know
she works on.
Tomorrow I will not wish that before the end of my walk
I could go to the laboring girl
and tell her what we both know is untrue,
of how her life and mine carry on them
the weight of two. So much in such lies
is there to make them true enough
to keep the forges burning
beside the river that flows
without concern for now and now.


This piece is altogether superb, and can be read both as a poem and a story. So much has been learned about narrative and construction by the author that he/she is able to move us along with that river, yet we never want to leave the town. It is beautifully entered, it is entirely its own, but reverberates with echoes of other writers, masters who preceded it. Look at how much information (and feeling that runs tributary to it) is given to the reader in the first four lines, a wonderful long sentence that ends just as it should. The differing lengths and musicality of the lines bespeak a poet who owns the gifts of rhythmic sureness, equipoise and access to deep sorrow. There is a life and a world here, an infinitely expandable moment. The word haunting is overused in reviews and criticism, so let me just say that I feel I will dream this poem again and again, forgetting each time that I’ve dreamt it. It was an honor to have read The Day of a Girl. --Michael Larrain

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