a woman goes to the river,
a basket on her head full of clothes.
She is here to wash — flakes of skin,
faeces, urine dried in the fibers.
She comes to this same place morning,
night, draws water to cook, bathe
on the bank of The River of Crocodiles.
She is small, like a child, her skin
soft as tropical earth, her hair in a
plait to her waist. She walks in the
sound of water over stones, to the
sound of her own heart, her hips
breaking open to the rhythm of claw and
tail mudfalls. She washes with one
eye closed, slapping against a stone
hunched in the mud.
he sees her come to the river, smells
her brittle bones, her softness to
the steel of his hide. Their need
the same — desire each morning,
each evening when she comes, leaves
gifts, hopes to lure
a child into her body.
He spirals toward her. She turns,
one eye closed, then looks to the river.
He is gentle, mounts
her three, four times. Semen drips
onto rock, and he knows, she knows.
six months later the mid–wife will not
come. Her husband must help her deliver.
She is ripe fruit, splits when
the child slides onto earth in a fall
of grace, his partial hide scraping the
man's hands as he holds it. She
lifts her head, is silent
at evidence incontrovertible.
a man goes down to the river.
He carries a woman who has just
given birth. He carries a mis–
shapen child. He tosses the
woman into the water, holds her head
until she drowns, her long hair trailing
current. Face up, her body flows
toward the sea.
The mis–shapen child is pitched into the
current, but swims away. The father rises from
The River of Crocodiles, closes
his mouth full of teeth on the man's torso,
pulls him under and rolls, rolls.
Can you say
what we know about these people,
what you know about these people?
If I am telling you the truth; if
you believe my story,
they are dead.
Because they belonged to my village,
we no longer go to The River of Crocodiles to
swim, wash, conceive, though
water is our solace in this too hot place,
the river is our desire.
About the Author: Zan Ross is a poet and fiction writer in western Australia. Her poetry has appeared in many Australian magazines and journals, and been collected in B-Grade and En passant.
"The River of Crocodiles" is copyright © 1999 by Zan Ross. It first appeared in Southerly, a literary journal published in Sydney, and may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express permission.