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Jenn Givhan: Excerpts from River Woman, River Demon

Selected by Mish Murphy, Assistant Poetry Editor

Excerpts from River Woman, River Demon

It isn’t the first time I hear a woman howling from the water.

The river that flows alongside my property keeps me close to Karma, even as it reminds me of my apple-cheeked friend who drowned when we were fifteen-year-olds in the girldom-womanlost space where Karma got caught, where she ghosts the borderlands between almost-woman and never. In my Mexica culture, a woman forever yowls beside a ditch bank. Or a girl. Depending on which story you believe. She’s supposed to be a mother, but in some versions, she never grows beyond round-breasted girlhood. She bears the body for mothering but drowns before she’s given the chance.

And as she pulls away from me toward the swampy bottom, before she disappears, I shake and shake the memory, but it will not tell—

Was I grasping for her fingers as she slipped downward, out of my reach—

Or was I pushing her under?

*

If I say we practice Hoodoo, some folks may imagine tricks far worse than those we typically fix. It isn’t that an outsider’s images of gris-gris, devil’s shoestring, animal bone, or hemp-bound and knotted doll babies for sticking would be incorrect. The fictionalized images come from something real. But they’re only half the story.

A nonbeliever can look away, can go back to their life, as if what they’ve seen or read hasn’t wriggled its way like a worm into the bottle of their bellies. A skeptic can close the book, leave the theater, or watch their television darken like the new moon while shaking their heads and commenting, Damn, that was frightening, I’m glad it’s over, without ever grasping at the reality coiling just above their heads—if only they’d look up.

For us folks of color, conjuring isn’t entertainment; it’s the brass key pointing us to freedom.

Jericho taught me that. How Magick can be, beyond the layers of doubt and shame and skepticism where the white world has conditioned us. When we come back to ourselves, the power and strength are ours.

Still, it’s Magick, not fairytale. It’s survival.

And even Magick with the best intentions has a way of turning dark sometimes, turning ugly.

*

Photo credit: J. Andrew Givhan

Book cover to RIVER WOMAN, RIVER DEMON by Jenn Givhan

RIVER WOMAN, RIVER DEMON by Jenn Givhan

RIVER WOMAN, RIVER DEMON by Jenn Givhan

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