Chelsea Dingman

The Columbia River Taught Me How to Run

Past the frightened yards, the women.

Past the snowplows, the .22’s steel
barrel, snow falling through carcasses
of the deer dragged in from the hunt.

Past the northern lights disfiguring that black water.

Past skeletal swing-sets and merry-go-rounds.

Past my father, the arteries hardened
around his heart, fingers yellow with tar when his body was found.

Past my mother, the months she cleaned
rooms in a roadside motel on the night shift.

Past the children, sleeping off empty stomachs.

Past avalanches on the Roger’s Pass, a burnt mattress, bear traps
in the woods.

Past the woods, the tracks, the trains.

Past that steep hill with the cedar house that sat atop it.

Past warnings that a man hunted
there—a young hitchhiker raped, a runner abducted.

Past felled trees and crime scenes that taught us few people live
past forty.

Still, I hear the river, howling at night, outside my door.

Sometimes, I wake up drenched.
Sometimes, someone drowns
who isn’t a father.

Sometimes, women leave & never go back.

Sometimes, I spend my nights
pulling women from the river. Their children
tucked in their ears & the knots in their hair.

Sometimes, loneliness is all I have left of them.

Sometimes, I have been nothing
to anyone. The snow, falling through me in wonder.


Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her second poetry collection, Through a Small Ghost, won The Georgia Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (February, 2020). She is also the author of the chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved (Madhouse Press, 2018). Her work is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, and Triquarterly, among others. Visit her website: