In the River


Anywhere you step into the river
it is not the same river.
You step into the river
and it is your own life, sunlight
shimmering on the surface near trees
on the shore, fish swim
in the shallow water,
a salamander at night,
a turtle at the end of a waterlogged
tree submerged in sand.
Stepping into this river
is to step into life,
years like reflections
in the water's surface,
touch the water to dispel
their magic, ripple the calm surface
with time and desire to return
to something not as you
remember it, a happy
childhood, marriage, people
once entertained, accompanied
on certain walks, now
memory with its insinuation
of grief, its subversive
stance so insistent
that it alone is truth.
Step into the river,
feet tentative
in cold water,
those not able to swim
could drown, others
could spend a lifetime
trying to let go
of the shore,
while others still
wade around the depths
and find life shallow.
Do you remember your first shore,
contained in mother's womb, then
all of life became a river,
a place of silence.
You sink
on first stepping
from the shore
and plummet
straight down;
or floating, held in someone's
arms, your parents there
to hold you, catch you
in your fall;
the journey is alone,
the destination
being alone for all time
or so it feels
at night returning home
wet, cold, and tired
from another day's
wading in search
of broken pottery,
blue glass, clay deposits
you collect in plastic
bags, later to mold
in likenesses of those once known
and place on a shelf
in a row (one near the end
resembles yourself
or people who
in former lives
were your parents,
brothers, wives, all
actors in a drama,
seen as though staring
up at you
from where they lie
beneath the water
as in a dream).


Because I did not grieve
when I was a child,
I have spent a lifetime
grieving, always on the edge
of sorrow, taking
a pilgrimage to the sea
where I stand outside
a museum of totem
poles and relics.
Is the ocean
a great river, with
currents, eddies,
the Gulf Stream
warming the coast?
I have waded a river,
now the ocean
lies at the bottom
of a steep staircase
cut in sand and rock,
steps for giants I joke
to my son and I must
stop to rest
before continuing
to the bottom;
the sea containing
spirits, souls,
the memories of mankind,
the soul of one man
and woman, the one
in many and many,
all little more than
grains of sand,
in one. We
walk a hundred
feet along a beach,
am I searching again
for Father
in the sea's waves,
could he rise
at last, return
to me, who
still grieves;
in salt water
an inheritance
of blood.
We are nothing really,
my son and I,
two generations
searching, but
for what? Love
and meaning
in life, for
the sea to toss up
at our feet
some object
we can drag to the trees
and investigate its mystery
in private.
We secret it home,
by-passing the museum,
and when alone examine it,
an amphora or ancient
sea-chest full of treasure,
bones in a coffin (are
they Father's? white with age
and the erosion of salt water),
fallen into the sea
during the storm, or
broken glass, vases
or long stemmed glasses
covered with green sea-growth;
whatever it is
it is of value
to us
who search
for the perfect
moment, escape
from what
we used to be
and find
we have become
most fully
what we are
when we abandon
all thought
of being anyone.

(from The Yoni Rocks, Empyreal Press, 1995)