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Dirt Roads

Today, hiking along a river in another state,

I’m thinking of the dirt roads between Belle Fourche

and Spearfish, and how in early summer

when there is still enough rain, the prairie folds

itself like velvet into Spearfish Creek, the banks

like two hands cupping grain. And the railroad-tie bridge

the boys jumped from, and the abandoned white chapel

we must have broken into when we found

that cooler of Keystone Light. Not every river

reminds me of sex. But I’m remembering now,

naked one night under a sky of fireflies and stars, a hand

traced my stomach and I trembled. A touch

and a reaction. A creek, cold beer. My body

on a worn sheet and the whole sky flashing.



I walk out & it’s still not spring. I watch the blackbirds

over the lake & the lake is melting but it’s still not spring.

The ice is leathered islands. The soil sings the past.

This season is thick with thaw & wet brown mud—

the work of transformation. Like God, I suppose.

A runner passes in a red coat & I stop at the same bridge

I stopped yesterday & the day before that. It’s where I turn

around. If March were a poem, she’d be a crown of sonnets,

spinning forward & circling back. If God were a poem,

God would be the twelfth line. The breath before the answer.

If heaven were real we’d know it like the blackbirds

know it’s nearly time to nest. In our bones. Like God,

I’m waiting to swim. Like you, I keep walking toward

forgiveness, maybe tomorrow, the earth is softening.


CHELSEA B. DESAUTELS is the author of A Dangerous Place (Sarabande Books, 2021). Her work appears in The Adroit Journal, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. A Tin House Scholar and winner of the 2020 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize from the Missouri Review, Chelsea earned her MFA from the University of Houston, where she was the recipient of the Inprint Paul Verlaine Prize in Poetry. Chelsea lives with her family in Minneapolis.


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