The Kappa

by Joshua Gage

The river is a tiny child
with toad skin, hair muddy down
its head like tangled lotus roots
clawing towards its neck. The laughter
from its beak trickles in
your ears like water over stone.
Ever so polite, it pours
into your garden by moonlight, stealing
cucumbers. You’ll find the rinds at dawn,
its tongue having pried the seeds
from their cradle, sucking each one clean
before it swallows. "Do not walk there,"
you warn your daughter, "Your kimono lifts
too easily. Your thighs cannot keep secrets
from its hands."

There is too much blood.
You scream and when the screams run out,
when your body lets go and your son
rips through, you sleep, one ear open
for a cry that cannot come. Your breasts
grow ripe for lips that cannot drink.
When you wake, the midwife holds
your hand and, stroking your hair
from your forehead, tells you he was fed
to the river.

The laughter is louder now.
The stars slip behind the clouds, and you
can feel, beyond your gate, the webbed fingers
pull his body down, the water swelling
in to fill his mouth, his nose.
"Do not walk there," you warn your daughter.
It pries your stillborn’s legs apart,
tongue slipped between the cheeks to suck
his blood and lap each organ out.
The evening fog shrouds the ground
and soaks your steps. Only the tops
of the reeds are visible in the moonlight.
The river calls you. The night rolls in,
heavy, wave after wave, until
you have forgotten how to breathe.

Joshua Gage is a member of the Deep Cleveland Tribe of Poetics and the Cleveland Speculators. His chapbook, Deep Cleveland Lenten Blues, is available on Deep Cleveland Press, and his collection of haiku, breaths, is forthcoming from VanZeno Press. He would like to say that he is reading something like the grains of coffee at the bottom of his cup, but in reality, he is currently reading collections of Japanese haiku and waka, building a speculative manuscript based on those forms.

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