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Oxbows.

The hooves of a thirsty beast might have stamped these parentheses in mud. C's and U's spell what the mazy flow has left behind, the wendings discarded for direct ways. This river scores the prairie's tender hand, a curved lifeline plaited with oxbow lakes. Light glisters these hooks of estranged water, like horseshoes lost, a bronze boat overturned, or the crescent moon unable to rise.

Grain by grain, land records seasons of flood and drought, choke of slow wash, the loess and drift of migrating shoals, tearing down, building up, and tearing down. A soil embankment holds, then splits to trickle and swash, a freshet rushes through the notch and cascades to gurge, mud flume surges until the deeper place is filled and the current slows. Newly sliced, the island waits to be rejoined to strand by drain and slow silt, while waves lick cutbanks to precariousness, to plummet, pun the shore to another tortuous path.

Water reverts to earth: blue pond to brown to algae, squelchy bog thickens with reeds to wallow, to chughole, fallow and field. Beyond bandy banks and lakes, green shadows of lakes overlap, fishscales in bottomland. The plow respects this healed terrain and draws its sinuous furrows in sickle shapes. The pewter road obeys what has occurred, and twists and turns as if it held stained glass. These verdant scars -- lush earthen oxbows -- prove more fertile than land never cut. Half-rings remember decisions, abandonings, the rich alluvia yoke the river -- so restless and forgetful -- to the past.

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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Keller, Johanna
Publication:Southwest Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
Words:252
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