you and I
of the same river
you and I
of the same river
I’ve got a wide, a wide river to cross.
—“Wide River to Cross” by Julie Miller, Steven P. Miller
Perhaps when the river
we must cross is so wide
and the journey
to just to get to the river is so long
that our legs and arms are weary
before we even reach the shore,
perhaps that is when
it helps to remember
that the heart is infinite
in how much it can love,
and dang if that journey
across the river
doesn’t seem all that far
after all and the body
shudders and trembles
finds a way to take
one more step, and
one more step.
just another full moon rise—
is it any wonder
I can’t stop bowing?
how, I said,
to the river bed
do you make
of yourself a home?
I let the flow shape me,
the river bed said—
choked with ice
the river impedes itself—
I catch myself
it is beautiful
of unrestricted days
says the part of me
in my way
love, let us
be naked together—
how did we ever
get fooled that we
are not enough?
its edges invisible—
we can’t see the path
doesn’t mean it isn’t there
not long enough
to watch the river move across itself
and still this moment
It’s true, sometimes the river can’t be wide enough
between me and you. God knows it’s cold in there.
And deep. And full of secrets I don’t ever want to know.
And that old bridge joining us, sometimes I pray it falls.
Tell myself it’s better that way, what, with you over there
and no way to get over here except to swim—and I know
you won’t do that. Yeah, I say, it’s better that way,
you and me just keeping our distance. In fact,
sometimes I pretend it’s gone already, that old bridge.
But then next thing I know, I’m making up smoke signals
to say hey, there’s a really pretty light on the water tonight,
and hey, I’m wishing you would tell me that story again, the one
your mama used to tell to you when you were scared.
And that’s when I know that if that bridge collapsed,
well, I would build a new one with all my resources—
my stubbornness, my hope, my hands. It is hard
to build a bridge out of stubbornness and hope.
But I would. Sometimes it’s all we have.
We were better at it then.
On the muddy desert river
in our yellow rubber boat,
you would sit in front
and I would sit in back
and as our bow
would slide onto the glossy
slick tongue of the rapid,
we’d begin to sing.
Opera. Neither of us
knew a thing about opera,
except that it made us feel
invincible to sing the highest
notes we could hit and to hear
each other trilling just above
the white roar. We thrilled
at the edge of chaos. Joy
in our ignorance. Confusion
did not seem to have the same
bite it does now when you call
me to say the surgery is Wednesday
and you’ll know then if the three tumors
are malignant. I do not sing
when you tell me. Nor after we hang up,
unless you call whimpering song.
Which perhaps it is, though I do not
feel brave, standing on the edge
of this new chaos, you in front
again, this current much stronger
than we can paddle against. I feel
our humanity, how the end is all
wrapped up in the middle,
the beginning, how little we know
and how fragile we are. I look
out the skylight at the buds
on the cottonwood trees.
They are swelling, though not
yet green. They do not resemble
what they will become,
but experience tells us
to expect a bright green unfurling.
We have no experience now
with what comes next. But we
do know how to sing a high warble,
trill it high above the hospital hum.
I am rusty, but mustering the voice
to sing to you from here,
even though I no longer believe
it will keep us from sinking.
Something softens when we enter the flow.
Not that I didn’t try to find the shore.
I scraped at the stones, grasping as I passed,
clawing until my fingers bled. Not that I didn’t try
to stall in the eddy where I spiraled down,
down. I tried. I tried. What if, instead, I had
fallen in love with the angry swirl, fallen in
love with the waves’ white froth, fallen in love
with the chill, the roil. It did not last, the chaos. It delivered
me to the warm quiet water that also did not last.
At one point, though, it happened, through no effort
of my own, the small unvoice in me began to whisper,
world I love you, world I love you, world I love
you I said to the rocks, to the shore, to the heron
standing in the center of the stream as I passed.