Song of the River in Winter

by Mary Ardery

You cross just before dusk. January water
floods your boots, surges up to your knees,
then pierces your thighs. Goosebumps
rise like ridges on a map. You still shiver
even after changing into dry clothes.
Remove your gloves to give night meds
and feel your hands ache in the freezing air,
a bone-deep throbbing as you twist countless lids
off pill bottles, your fingers clumsy with cold.
When the women lumber drowsy to their tents,
their keychain lights blink on and off and on,
blue dots breaking the distant black.
Meanwhile, the river rushes on, a lullaby
that haunts you like children sweetly singing
in a trailer for a movie where no one survives.


Mary Ardery is originally from Bloomington, Indiana. “Song of the River in Winter” is about her time working as a field guide for a wilderness substance abuse program in North Carolina. More of her work appears in Missouri Review’s “Poem of the Week,” Fairy Tale ReviewCincinnati Review’s “miCRo” series, Prairie SchoonerSalt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. You can visit her at