Finalist – 2024 James H. Nash Contest

Cuivre River


In scorched daylight
         my brother and cousins 
did black flips 
off the top of a bright orange 
     pontoon boat my dad 
had bought used that summer. 
  I barely knew the oak trees 
that shuddered above us, 
      or the top of the muddy waters
glazed in plastic swimming tubes
   and soda can cozies, as I did a dead
man float next to black snakes 
  whose thick bodies swerved too close 
near my ankles and shins, 
  their long bodies like the oiled skin
of a sunbather, their never ending 
    tubed skin, those snakes 
without a thought or care of me 
    in the too deep waters 
that were already rising 
    against the lush verdant green 
banks of the river, 
     during a year 
when we had money, 
a year when no creditors 
                were calling the house, 
a year when the river was swelling but hadn’t 
   yet burst and the air around 
us was grated in mercy and pleasure, 
       in the peace we carried across 
docks to waters I barely knew, 
  and laughter rang across our tanned skin
and raptured gathered us together 
        in the beds of that widening river 
before she tore so many in half, 
      before she stained the deepest parts of us, 
a year when no one was yet 

JESSICA FREEMAN writes poetry, creative nonfiction, and is an English Teacher and Developmental Skills Training Specialist. She has work published in Yemassee, The Mississippi Review, The McNeese Review, SWWIM, Red Rock Review, The Spectacle, Third Coast, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has received an Honorable Mention from the Academy of American Poets. Her M.F.A. is from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and her M.A. is from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her current poetry manuscript, Songs for the Father of Waters, is on the market and has been a semi-finalist for multiple contests.