The Fourth River

A journal of nature and place-based writing, published by Chatham University's MFA in Creative Writing Programs

Tributaries: “Diagnostics”

By on August 9, 2017

By Lora Rivera


Your eyes go bright, green as creosote. “This here’s a good placement. Lots of surface area. Solid rock.” Tap-tap. “Now this…” Tock-tock.

“Hollow,” I mutter.

Nuts, cams, anchors: Sport climbing’s one thing. This’ll be my first trad lead.

I called you family last night. It felt like venturing onto nothing slab—open hands and groping feet. Those first few moves are always about keeping it together. Lunch pools and roils in the basin of my stomach.

I start the climb. I place protection and anchor into the deep part of the crack. I breathe in, lungs stretching with cold, desert air. Breathe out.

A red-tail hawk streaks by, slinging its dagger of a shadow over Joshua trees and low scrub, disappearing into sunlight. Empty my chest again, only to fill it and flush it. Fill it and flush it. That is how it works. That is how everything works.

But, a person could get lost in that cycle, never move again. So, tock-tock. Tock.

I adjudicate, place gear, move. Will the rock give way when I trust it? Will you?



Post-MFA, Lora Rivera worked as a literary agent, children’s biographer, and crepe maker. Today, she develops online trainings for child welfare professionals and serves as senior editor of a community-driven climbing anthology. She is Asian-Indian, queer, and happily partnered. Forthcoming or recently published works appear in journals such as Reckoning, Flock, Gravel, FLAPPERHOUSE, and The Chattahoochee Review. Learn more at


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