Two Poems by Ryan Masters

Habeas Corpus

Krist's mother would not mourn her son

until the river produced a body.

Instead she sued the Fairbanks sports store

that rented him a canoe without lifejackets.

When they'd shown her a waiver

with his signature lying illegibly

across its bottom, she refused

to believe it was his hand.


I could not tell her that her son

would not have appreciated the lawsuit

in the same way I could not tell her

there would never be a body,

that he was wedged forever

beneath submerged tree and stone,

pinned down by the roar

of a dark and silted river.


I gave her a tour of the cabin

that her son and I shared. Where I still lived.

I showed her photos, some bottles

and bowls he threw in ceramics class.

Even when I played the scratchy demo tape

our band recorded just weeks before

his death, she would not cry.


Instead, she sat on his empty bed

and looked at the door. As if he could walk

in. As if she wanted

to be sure to meet her son

halfway across the room

with a dry towel

for his wet and tousled hair.


River Hook



Salmon pack into holes.

Writhe upriver and gasp at

the sky. Lug swollen humps,

thrash rotting tails,

set grotesquely hooked jaws

firmly against the current.


On their way by,

fish nudge his body in the dark.

Pause to rest beside his flaking flesh.

Gather floating chunks of ghost

strength, small bites salted with

the memory of a life, a yesterday,

a home, a mother, perhaps even

with some small part of me.


They are dying, these fish.

Transformed by a ferocious anticipation

into misshapen hunchbacks

with mush for guts and meat

spoiled by the distant

memory of calm water.



A body retrieval unit

drags the river below the rapids

with weighted hooks

hoping to get lucky.


Men in black wetsuits

and masks slip in and out

of the current like great newts.


While from the marshy bank,

a boy throws a line of shining

filament weighted with one un-baited

treble hook out over the river.


Ryan Masters