Ashleigh Young



He was a small man
at first, with shoulders that fell;
his hands were of
a coldness she had felt before
on a bivouac’s inner wall. They had

camped at the edge of the bush
on their way to the Sounds.
Morning stars
visited their mesh window:
awake, she surveyed the sheer slope

of his face, how his cheekbones
rose like footholds
on the stave
of his skull. The unknown kisses
of his climber’s feet, browsing her shins

like eels in the river.
When sleep got inside him
at last she could press
the cavity in her chest
to the heavy lids of his shoulder blades

which, with tact, could be pried gently loose
so to venture into the warmer
interior, her tiny pen-light darting
through the blacknesses
she met along the way

that draped their arms on her arms,
and tried to turn her back. Wetas
on the ceiling! A single rock
falling: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand
she heard it knock the water. There were no glow-worms

here. Far away or close by,
the stitching and unpicking
of oars
on the river. Voices,
young laughter, students touring

together. She travailed the roof
with her single file of light, found only bodies
of black rock, stretching, craning lips
into one another’s necks.
The rocks bit at the soles

of her feet. She missed the moon,
imagined it rolling
back in the sky’s head,
appearing again through a cloud
and following, bony old thing
and pale, still travelling.

‘If you ever got lost, just follow the river.’
She had always been told this
but whether it was because the river flowed
to another, safer, cave
or because a boat might cruise alongside
to take her home; she didn’t know—
were there boys inside, who each had

his closed face and
his closing eyes?
Sometimes her feet bled,
but he said nothing

and in the morning
she felt the push and pull of the water still
as if she had been swimming.
Then the slick curve of his eyes turned,

warmed to her like she was a stone
in his hand.




Author’s Note


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