Rural Sport, Paul Nelson

Judith Nelson, Cloister, 2010, 28X23


– a deflection on John Gay’s “Rural Sports

Brassy carp rub each other like ancient lamps,
shoulder the bourbon shallows
as if to get through customs

In jungle guerrilla gear
archers at the rail peer down
from the sunny side of the bridge

draw their compound bows
and send off their gaily fletched arrows
tipped with 3-prong barbs

monofilament shining like spider casts
out from reels below their wrists
behind the aluminum shafts

with such concentration
fired into the reckless mob
moving like will itself

For sport they say
to make “kills” of moving objects
from among “too many”

while in from ridges and runs
shoppers from K-Mart Odd-Lots and Stogers
slow down or park to walk back and gawk

or take up the punctured bodies
immigrants grappled from the Hocking
twisting in air like dervishes

carry them in plastic sacks to pickups
before their boys can heave them
under bridge-quaking semis

to hear the pop crunch and smatter of fruit
that draws racoons at night
rubbing their hands like tent preachers

the armored skin softening in foil
steamed in galvanized pails and wash tubs
in the dirt yard of a shack or trailer park

the mild flavor the essence of the river
the sulking sludge, swollen boots
after lethal battle in softening rain

Survivors froth the shallows
waggle over dunes of treated matter
miscible with runoff, drifting silt and sawdust

the river thinning as best it can
the laundromat meringue and paradoxical
sodas of the university at Athens

the campus spread and edged by toxic links
shorn greens along the bank
pools aswirl upstream at White’s Mill

with the custard of old dumps in Logan
and Chauncy the spring flood so wide this year
that coffins are born like decrepit arks

from the ox-bow cut
behind the graveyard in Coolville
to wallow toward the Ohio while

beneath the bridge on weekends
students ride undertows of “feesh” and “warsh”
on truck-size inner tubes

their laughter beneath the span
exploding clouds of roosted pigeons
blurring the Polaroid vision of bowmen

who age with temptation
guts pressed to the rail
incited by coeds and education

Weeks later with water down
their kids wade below the dam
get rashes and leeches

their talc white flesh shriven by the current
while a tardy carp straggles by
bumps their shins like an old hound

a sequined aunt’s fat forearm or sodden
indecipherable scroll
hauled from a damp amphorae

to get stoned in shallows and borne ashore
draped like a soaked prayer rug
across a grinning boy’s arms

scales flaked like pennies saved
from eyes that flashed white in coal mines
in dark bars beneath the elms

eyes that met under dire flags
youngsters blue as pigeons or gray as doves
corpses in bloody water and conviction

soldiers crawling to a further shore
North or South of the Hocking or beautiful
Ohio shored by broken loaves and rotting fish

Paul Nelson

Scroll to Top