The Paper River
The most beloved body
of my childhood was Johns Brook,
its bed of ancient broken pears,
icy libations pouring
over them for centuries.
Through the leaky oval mask
I entered its alcoves and grand halls,
its precincts of green-brown light,
the light of my infant thinking.
In the minnow-bright roar
I saw the place where life and art
meet under water, stone to stone,
with the sunken treasure and trash.
The sound of the brook
was the sound of the house,
the pools of the kitchen and bedrooms
A galaxy away it would still be
the background of my sleep.
Clouds came down to earth,
great gloomy rooms among the trees,
dark rooms of the brook,
church of deep pools.
As soon as you entered
you were wholly alone in it,
all sinewy ladders
and gray stairs, stones magnified
and the sidelong trout,
all gone now,
rainbows and brookies,
one big one per pool,
gills like fresh cuts.
I dove into the flume’s mystery,
no place you touch bottom
or see all the way down in
because half at least
was always in shadow.
It was like learning a room
by carrying a candle
corner to corner,
looking for God to see if He, too,
were awake and listening
to the river crumpling and erasing,
enforcing its laws.
I found a cold, oblique god,
who commanded me to answer
all my questions by myself.
The English language
is also a beautiful river,
full of driftwood and detritus,
bones hung with trinkets,
scant beaches more stones then sand.
And up on the hills it’s the wind
touching the juniper spurned
by the cows, its thistle sharpness,
and the fawn’s hoof
left by coyotes,
in their scat.
DOG LANGUAGE (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)