Ted Mathys

Gold Dredge


Fog-white, bulky as a five-story factory,
the dredge is shipwrecked in its own pond.
Atlantis, not sunken but abandoned. 

I lean on a railing in the winch room.
A bead of sweat drips from my nose
to an acquisitive minnow that flashes 

to greet it. The pond is ringed by dead men:
pines and firs to which cables were stretched
to steady the hull from bow and stern.

For decades it crawled, pivoting on its spud
as the buckets gnawed through acreage,
digesting rock in the swirling trommel,

flushing the slurry through sluices,
dragging its pond along as hostage,
pausing for war and resuming again 

with an increase in the price of gold,
leaving a trail of tailings down the valley
like the path of slime behind a slug.

Dead men are reflected in the water
that the boilers thawed each winter.
A blossom blown from a stalk of mullein 

disturbs the surface tension.
The pale figure of the Dredge Master
ripples in the syntax of minnows.

His smile widens to silent laughter
as he raises a wooden riffle
caked with black sand and heavy metals.

He lifts his tongue to flash me the gold coin,
spit-slicked and placed there after his death,
a small denomination to pay the ferryman

to pole him across the river in a skiff.
A wildfire high in the Elkhorn mountains
has burned for days. The advancing mass

of smoke and ash wraps the foothills
and slides through stands of dead men
like an exhalation after long-held breath.




Ted Mathys is the author of Null Set (Coffee House Press, 2015) and two previous books of poetry. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poetry Society of America, his work has appeared in American Poetry Review, BOMB, Boston Review, Conjunctions, The Georgia Review, PBS NewsHour, and elsewhere. He lives in Saint Louis, teaches at Saint Louis University, and curates the 100 Boots Poetry Series at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.