Smokestack · John Riley

The man strapped
to the steamboat's smokestack
sees nothing asunder
on the river's green green banks.
Few animals come out to notice
a human strapped tightly
to the big pipe that will soon
be filled with black heat
from the old boat's last voyage.
Steam is no more. The ladies
who had crowded the deck
in summer dresses and wide hats
can now journey
without having to worry
they'll burst into flames
from a freed ember.
Time is the price we pay alone
and it is best he pay his now
when the travelers no longer
fill the deck with chatter
and lust and anger and silliness.

He struggles now only for comfort,
not escape, and glides his thoughts
to how the birds,
his favorite small ones
with their busy, regulated lives,
will fling across the sky when he chugs
from the wooded inlet into the river
to travel downstream to the Gulf.

John Riley is the founder and publisher of Morgan Reynolds, an educational publisher located in Greensboro, North Carolina. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Fiction Daily, Willows Wept Review, Dead Mule, St. Anne's Review, Metazen, and many other anthologies and journals both online and in print.