Ghost River
Kris Johnson

I       Aquifer n.: a sung prayer which uses liturgical text by the theologian, philosopher and Italian Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas.[1]

What is faith
if not the belief
in water
we cannot see?


We drink from the hose-pipe
a mouthful of darkness.

So that’s what the centre
of the earth tastes like.

II     Aquifer n.: a subterranean repository.[2]

Beneath the homestead
of my ancestors,
the time-blackened sauna
and fruit trees,
the apartment complexes
and strip malls,
the DMV
and high school,
beneath the K-Mart
and the Walmart,
Valley Highway
and Dairy Queen,
beneath the corn fields
and the lettuce,
cabbages and broccoli,
beneath the fertilizer, pesticides,
cattle pens and milk barn,
beneath salal and Douglas fir,
cedar and mycelium,
kissing the underbelly
of Big Soos and Sawyer,
there are Ghost rivers
from which we all drink.

There is deeper water yet.

III    Aquifer v.: to repress or withhold. [3]

She will not drink.
She dreams black water.


Imagine a glass:
half empty


What is data that deals in thirst?
Whose currency is water?

IV    Aquifer v.: the malign shadow that sometimes appears in brain scans.[4]

We are told that our hearts should be glad,
palm to palm with black water, she prays.
Holy, holy, holy.


What shall I call her?
Grandmother? Ghost River?


Ghost River? Grandmother?
Is it you I taste in this glass?

V     Aquifer v.: to gather the unconsolidated possessions of the deceased.[5]

What remains are kid gloves, cut-glass necklaces,
embroidered pillow cases and handkerchiefs, a cuckoo clock,
a mink coat, a drop-leaf table and pantyhose.

VI    Aquifer n.: the small font at the entrance or exit of a church.[6]

The Prophet said:
Come. Each unconsolidated
sediment is accepted here.

The sediments came
and fell upon their knees
to wash his feet.

[1] The critical piece of this plan is the development of an aquifer protection steering committee. This group is designed to oversee the management of the aquifer.

[2] Due to the shallow nature of this geologic unit, the District proposed the development of an aquifer protection plan which would define the aquifer boundaries and allow the District to affect management strategies to protect the integrity of the existing water quality and quantity parameters of this valuable resource.
[3] Figure 3.4 shows the precipitation trends over the period 1945 to 1995. The graph indicates the area has experienced relative drought conditions since 1984.

[4] The idealized upward sequence for a single, nonglacial/glacial cycle is fine-grained fluvial sediments, coarse-grained sand and gravel glacial advance outwash, glacial till, and coarse-grained recessional outwash deposits. The sequence can be complicated by potential pro- and post-glacial lake deposits. The ideal sequence is rarely seen.

[5] It is generally accepted that four or more glaciations have occurred in the Puget Lowland during the Pleistocene. Each of the glacial episodes and the intervening non-glacial periods left unconsolidated sediments in the area.

[6] The extent of the aquifer was not known at the beginning of the project.

Kris Johnson is a writer of poetry and essays with interests in gender and the environment. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Newcastle University, and in 2019 was awarded a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England for The Vast Kingdom of Nowhere, an experimental memoir. She has published in journals and anthologies including Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe), Ambit, Poetry London, Poetry Northwest and The Rialto. She currently works as researcher on a text-led public art project in Darlington and teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

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