The Morning Rick Died


in memory of Rick Johnson

The morning Rick died some slight thing left the water or returned to the water, something just missed, and the six silver canoes, the two green and the one red, knocked heads in Clear Creek’s ripple, tethered to trees, secure in their lanes. Over the ridge, Drummond Coal blasted another hectare of ore-laden clay. Diane punched dough in Eppes Hall till her elbow acted up and she had another smoke. Off Camp Road, the kudzu, thickened since Rick was admitted, blued in the pine-filtered light. Scott rootered two toilets before eight. Mark dreamed again of losing his hand in a fan. Lu’s garden fuzzled with the fur of new buds, held dew till nine. The three cows walked the fence line like sleep was a branch they couldn’t reach, and someone’s daughter was up practicing back-flips on the high dive, remembering the old man in tan coveralls she’d seen perched on a ladder underneath the board once, working on the wheel— flips lifting and falling like the souls of so many exhausted workboys. Under the pool, in the pump room, roaches scrammed, the emergency backboard held a leaf-blower loosely in its straps. Gas cans nestled next to buckets of chlorine. Across America children didn’t listen. Rock-and-roll churned in the innards of creation. The swinging bridge creaked a little in a little wind, its shadow riding the current, growing indecipherably apart from the boards Rick and Mr. Eppes and how many summers of workboys strung one board at a time in the 60s, crouching for breaks beneath the shade of mountain laurel, popping a cold Dixie, still wedged under the current between rocks, cemented with silt. You could almost hear them joking about the slit down the middle of Chad Denny’s nut-sack, which snagged as he slipped over the pool fence to skinny-dip, and was sewn tight, a stitch for every board, by Lu’s gleaming midnight needle. The morning Rick died still no workboy, no dog, wasp, or beetle was lost on his watch because he wanted it, this poem started up like a team of lawn mowers razzing in dry grass, like a tree blight, cell by cell, or yellow jackets in a log’s long hall, or plaque carrying on with plastering an artery, no questions, it started working.

AUSTIN SEGREST, originally from Alabama, teaches literature and creative writing at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. See more at