Of Harmony, Trust and Rust

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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.

Heart-Blood

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Autumn on the Hudson, by Jasper Francis Cropsey, 1875

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.

Teasing Smile of Maybe

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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.

November Song

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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
November song.

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

River Dancers

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(Photo © 2015 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.

The Breakup

In its latest relationship,
ice stays the silent type,
until it cracks a sinister smile
on its baby-smooth face,
hissing a warning
to come no closer.
It’s a devoted lover.
The cold-hearted river’s
only too willing to let ice
lie to you behind its glassy stare.
It’ll ignore you if you ask,
while faithful ice keeps
the river’s secret ways.
But eventually the waiting water
grows impatient,
breaking the silence of winter,
pushing aside its intimate,
forcing it from its bed,
battering the secret-keeper
while it rushes down
to bully more than just ice
and the shore.

Confluence

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It is a wonder, the Why of the Y,
the confluence of two disparate courses to one.
It happens in odd congruity sometimes,
where the pure and the muddy meet
in what should be ugly, calamitous clash.
But there comes a moment where the physics,
the gravity of nature, human and otherwise,
have a way of sifting the sin from the soiled
and sullying the clear in silty suspension,
perhaps a chemical suspension, of disbelief.
Birds, pulled from the sky at the magic of it all,
carve their own soft Y-shapes tracks,
curlicue memories, in the mud there beside
the languorous eddy captured at the delta.
Perhaps it is their poetry

Here is my very quick effort for my friend Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt, the photo you see here of the Junction of Rhone and Arve rivers in Geneva, Switzerland.