Poem: Up the River

I promised a poem about the insights from this morning’s kayak trip, in my last entry. It was a beautiful day, the tide was high, and it was exactly the right time to go in the water. At the same time, my body and mind were making another journey this morning, that I wasn’t really aware of until a little later in the trip. As one of my professors kept saying, “matters of ritual are often functional in origin but ontological upon reflection.”

The orange kayak susses across the sand and into the water,
where rock and sea, air and tide meet.
Astronomical forces are at play here:
the water coming into the river,
drawn by Moon invisible on her course,
as I am drawn upriver by the same tide,
the same urgency of now,
when breeze comes down the river,
Pulling herons and swallows in her wake.

Mother makes journey with me,
gliding in a boat of her own,
Both of us solitary voyagers,
Voyaging together.
I pass the first house on the right,
The one with the huge maple tree in its yard,
Its garden alive with green growing things.
Across the river, big orange brick house
Still looks empty,
Its walls a pastiche of European style,
Referencing every noble tradition known,
A silent jewel box that never seems to know human action.

Here in mid-river, reflecting the sun,
The water is resplendently purple,
The rich color of emperors and kings,
Priests and Phoenicians and Pharaohs:
Wavelets carry memory of passing ships,
Presage laughing children,
The darting arrows of rowers —
Disciplined as warriors or water dancers.

We cross under the first bridge.
Here, the dazzling whiteness
Of many ships gathered together
Blinds me in brightness. Such wealth,
Such wonder, such beauty!

The side fork takes us to the mill pond,
Water so shallow it’s almost red. Some folks on their deck watch us paddle past,
Masking irritation and anger with their morning mugs of coffee. Why are they
In our water?
seems essence of their question. how to get them to go away?

Retiring to the main stream, we find the households of the mighty along the water: brilliant big mansions that only great wealth can build: this purple one with a turret painted purple, adirondack chairs like thrones on the porch.

The current is stronger here, pushing us backward. We struggle harder against the current. The speed of the tide carrying us inward and upward is slacking; the tide is turning. We must pull hard to move forward. On the left, here is the senior center with its elderly inhabitants, fragile and slow as lead.

On the right, nestled amid complex, marshy ground — always stable with the same marsh plants, yet ever in motion — new cygnets shelter under the wings of two old-soul swans: two parents, five children, swirling in circles in the river’s blackness.

Beyond, beyond:
Up the river still further!

Here is no abyss, but a dam:
The river in my fingers is salt,
It tastes of the sea, of fish,
Of living creatures

But now my orange kayak’s bow
Thuds against the great black wall.
Behold! The fresh water, living water,
Falls in cascades across the bows,
Sprays me in its excellence,
Makes me take in breath sharply,
Makes me tingle in delight

this far and no farther.

So says the river. abandon the boat, abandon safety,
To come further up,
And further in.

The black cormorants of the estuary
Give way to the white gulls where brine ends,
And the clear water begins.
There is a deepness,
A Fullness,
Beyond this black wall,
One I cannot touch,
Nor sense,
Nor see,
Nor taste.

Oh but I sense its results.
This flow from the source,
This mother and father of waters,
Feeding the swans and the seniors,
The mansions of the mighty,
And the angry coffee-drinkers,
The fleet of bright beautiful boats,
The grand spreading maple,
And the big orange house forever turned inward,
All depend upon the water cascading
Down over this dam,
Flowing out from the springs
That feed this mighty stream.

And now, with other eyes,
I can see the springs beyond the river’s source,
And the black earth of unknown marshes,
Forever feeding water into this river.

And beyond the springs, the rain:
Falling on receptive ground.

And beyond the rain, the clouds,
And beyond the clouds, great Ocean,
Untold depths,
The inexplicable, ineffable Deep.

The water in me wakes at this sense,
Cries aloud, a voice in a desert,
“and me also! Forget me not!”

Enough. The tide is turned,
My arms are tired, my head is weary.
The ocean pulls at my boat,
The stream is rushing to meet it.
I and my orange kayak drift south,
Downstream,
To return to my starting place:
Where the great river meets ocean.
Gathering clouds all around
Prophesy rain.

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