When I could hear again, I listened. I listened to the wind whoosh its breath past my ears. I listened as it roiled the river to a chop of a million mirrored suns. I listened to our shadows scrape their chains across the pavement. I listened to traffic hum its song on an interstate I could not see but believed knew the words. I listened as a gull shouted into the wind that it found it easier to fight river currents but loved the sky too much. I listened to you tell me how angry our world was, though never heard you say that word. And then I listened to my voice speak of what it didn’t understand because I never tried to say these things before. So I listened to the river once more. The constant river, never changing, spilling truths in teaspoons or torrents, if we’ll only listen. Combined Writer's Digest's prompt for an "unchanged" poem and NaPoWriMo's to find inspiration from a favorite line of poetry. It's from William Stafford's "Ask Me," probably my favorite poem.
Come Spring, the river ice breaks and floats away, like memories that’ll only return when you’re housebound and alone, prisoner of another Winter. Of course, Winter doesn’t need a new year attached to it to lock you up like an ice-capped stream. Memories can make their own Winters, freezing you to your chair, turning your back to any stray gust of Spring lest your frozen mien crack even a grin’s worth. But if you listen, you’ll hear the river’s heartbeat within, like knocking at your door. It won’t be denied when Spring decides it’s time for open water again. This piece was inspired by Writer's Digest's Robert Lee Brewer looking for a Spring poem today. I've written more than a few in my relatively short time as a poet, most looking at the change of season kind of sideways. Not sure what angle this one's looking from. Perhaps some hopeful shoreline.
She’s pulled the covers over herself again,
something she’s done to me for many years.
Come to expect this cold shoulder and then
it still hits me like frozen tears.
I stopped hearing her voice as I ran through life,
but maybe I just stopped listening too.
She’d always been there through good times and strife
still is, though ‘neath a sheet I can’t see through.
Now I lie with memory, and memory lied,
viewing our times together in moonbeams.
For weeks she’ll stay silent, as if she died,
not sharing her sparkle, her breath, her dreams.
But, come spring, perhaps we’ll rejoin our souls,
I know ‘neath that sheet my Mohawk still rolls.
I no longer cross the Mohawk River each day, much to my dismay. Sure I don’t miss the crazy commuting traffic. But I miss seeing the sun glisten off her hair, watching how she runs and hides behind that curve on the way to the Cohoes Falls, where she becomes one with the Hudson. She had a poetry and an art that spoke to some piece of me that itself went dormant when, each winter, she pulled her icy covers over her cold shoulders and stayed silent until the ice cracked in March and April. And the poetry came back.
Oh, and Tanontatátie is one of the names the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk people) called their river.
I can feel the breath on my face,
in waves as cool and metrical
as the current slaps the shore
in its Spring sprint to the sea;
or as warm and moist as a lover’s
sleeping against me on a summer night,
languid, as if waiting for me
to crack her still surface
as if it was ice, to entice those
ripples of movement that would
until coming to shimmering rest
like a sigh on the shoreline.
How many times have I wished
to float with her, letting her guide me
to her mouth, ignoring others’ views
of her boundaries conquerable only by
the arch artifices of arrogant men?
They’ve never appreciated her music
as I have, never watched how she reflects
whoever gazes upon her, be it the
drifting clouds above waving like flags
on her breeze-rippled skin, or my face,
still as a statue’s, as I seek answers
to questions I’ve never been able to ask.
It’s then I realize she’s done that
all along in her constancy, her depth,
her shallowness, her ever-open blue eyes
I’d fall into right now if not for the fact
they’ve absorbed me, absolved me first.
For Day 29 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenge, I was to take one of my favorite poems and find a very specific, concrete noun in it, then free-write associations – other nouns, adjectives, etc. Then I was to use that original word and the results of the free-writing as the building blocks for a new poem. The original poem I chose was perhaps my favorite, William Stafford’s “Ask Me.” For what it’s worth, this process is one I use all the time in writing new poems and stories.
For years, the river and I,
its surface like chipped obsidian,
would ramble side by side
along its banks, carrying on
the kind of harbor-deep and
I, with my carbon-black hair
and moods, wished I could enjoy
with a human companion.
But when a fellow Homo sapiens
would join me (and river)
on one of our midday sojourns,
they’d seem as shallow as
the Hudson’s shoreline
tidal pools whenever
the Atlantic would steal
from me its fluvial profundity.
It drained me, as well,
sending me away from
the river and it from me,
Instead, I’d limp round
and round a small pond,
which, while framed in
arboreal beauty, sat like
a vapid coquette, basking
in any compliments sun
and sky would shower upon
her jejune mien. Its placid,
flaccid demeanor, bereft
of any downstream gravity,
not only reflected how life
dulled since sharing black edges
with the Hudson, but how much
I’d turned pond-like, round,
soft-sided and silver on top.
For Day 5 of what I’ve discovered is now GLOBAL Poetry Writing Month (GloPoWriMo) my poem-a-day offering melds prompts from Robert Lee Brewer and NaPoWriMo.net. The former, to use an element, and the latter to convey a personal connection with the natural world, including its landscape. Mission, (too quickly) accomplished.
Out on the evening waves, a raft of sea otters bobs in placid sleep, all as one with the rise and fall of the ocean’s breath. At least one of them grips an anchor line provided by the sea’s kelp bed. Papas, mamas, pups and all link their forepaws in a touching ritual of purring familial harmony and trust. Inland, the barges bob to the river’s pulse, but placidity is not in their genes. Hard hulls of steel and rust link to shore and weave one to another with lines of twisted steel. Their touching ritual sounds of clanks, scrapes and a harsh cursing hymn of riparian fraternal harmony and trust. All of them, otters and barges alike, rest linked together upon that most maternal yet unforgiving of elements. Her lullaby floating above the waves long before these children tasted of her, felt her caress, and will long after they’ve run their own courses in this ever-repeating circle dance of harmony, trust and rust.
This prose poem was inspired by the photograph above captured by (and copyright) my fellow river artist, the brilliant Diana Matisz. The linking of those barges to sea otters? That inspiration evades even the poet’s net.
I miss those times we’d walk side by side,
the breeze, your breath, brushing
my face softly as I inhaled you.
I’m afraid I’m misplacing us among
so many of my memories, losing you
to fog-bound years, to our time apart.
To forget those days we touched,
how we turned gray and then white together,
how you always would echo back
to the vision of how you looked
the first time I saw you, would leave
my soul dry as a forever drought.
You’ll never know the many times
I spent watching you as you’d lie there
and I sat transfixed, dreaming,
at your bedside. The train would sound
in the distance and I knew my time
had come. But always I would linger.
You’ve been the route by which feelings
finally came upon me and emotions
floated away, the coursing blood
in my history, the ink in my pen.
Carve your scar deeper into me,
Great North River, heart-blood of empire,
companion, inspiration, muse.
Never let me go.
A poem of my personal and artistic relationship with the Hudson River, one I fear fading into a sad distance with age and geography.
I remember what it was like
next to the placid river,
when I was blinded perhaps to
the wrinkles made of wind
across its time-buffed surface.
It shone open and inviting,
like I could walk across it,
or lie upon it and not catch its coolness,
not hear the heartbeat and secrets
I knew it kept beneath the skin
that reflected an image
of what I wanted to see.
River and I.
Today, the supple surface lies
like a negative of our time together.
My timeless companion has taken on
the hardness of this age,
cool turned cold, promising
a stinging slap should I place my cheek
to its blank and frozen stare.
But here, by the shore, where I sit
and wait in this winter of my time,
there is an unfrozen slice,
a teasing smile of the undying maybe
a younger me might mistake
for some sparkle of a spring
I probably will never live to see again.
Photo inspiration from my friend Diana Matisz.
The river still sang its endless loop
of November song as it rolled past
the old steel bridge, even though
January had almost run its course.
On the hillside above, the latest
excuse-me snow had whitewashed
the abandoned shopping carts,
empty bottles of someone’s
hope turned to hopelessness —
perhaps the other way around —
and a notebook, its pages fat
with ice, its back broken,
its heart now devoid of words.
Where once ran the lyrics to
the music below, the sun had
bleached each line, exsanguinated
warm memory of their watching
the river flow, dreams to follow it
someday out of the valley,
to where the wind carried
the perfume of nature and not
the cough of the mines.
The coal train strikes up a new
strain, overpowering the waterway
that drew its path before factory
and farm knew this frozen soil.
In the roar and wind as it passes,
ringing its way out of this valley,
the pages flutter and reveal
seconds of secrets a girl never
told a boy, only to disappear
back to the winter white and
the sound the river makes as
it chases tomorrow and runs
from yesterday in its wordless
The photo above inspired this piece and is by my friend and fellow river wanderer, the brilliant photographer and writer Diana Matisz (https://about.me/diana_matisz)
It’s almost morning and the music
comes across muted in the mirror ball
near-light reflecting on the dance floor.
All night the couples have swayed
and bumped with one another,
even grinding their slippery bodies
in the moaning dark to the tune
that’s played in this joint since
the big bottoms shook hands
and opened it.
The aroma of old smoke
and older subterranean sweat
drifts heavy to you on the shore
and then come the voices signaling
Last Call, turning on those too bright lights,
pushing and hustling the dancers
on their ways to their daily jobs
filling these arteries with the ichor
from the black heart of the Alleghenies.
They’ll be back tonight, because
the rhythm of these rivers is all
they know, the blood-pumping
life of these sooty coal buckets,
these rusty barges with names like
painted ladies and otherwise
forgotten river men. Tonight they’ll
close their eyes and lean into
one another in the dark again.
And oh how they’ll dance!
This poem was inspired by the photo above by my friend, the super-talented photographer/artist/writer Diana Matisz from The City of the Three Rivers, and is used with her permission. She wrote of it: “A morning in which the old-bone creak of coal barges scraping against each other, is the only sound in this river valley…” Beats any poetry I can make.