Monday, September 3, 2012

The River, Stolen Word Poem from Carolyn Forche's "Travel Papers"

We halted where
the river, thick with freshwater whitefish, vendace,
bulged under arching birchwood
limbs before stretching out again, fated for the sea.

We built a fire
from half-soft wood where ants once lived –

ate silently, then
hung our tarp between two sturdy oaks. Outside
was only another roof. We, ourselves –

Not so much within
as under, dreaming,
the earth beneath snow when spring begins,

articulation of the body visible.

The trail we left behind
was kissed with yellow gorse
and pea-green fronds.

We found a naked patch, burnt
by a still pond, scarred with ash, pearled with feral swans.

And now, weary, birch-lined,
we set up camp by the river you say reminds you of Dresden,
the Elbe river armored
in green, infested with boats in afternoon
heavy with their passing
loads of freight
bound for Prague or Torgau, (or Budapest

for that matter, since all you saw was disappearing
hulls behind the hunched backs of fields).


When we met, in America,
we recognized each other
for that hungry look of refugees in another world.
You had become, as everything uprooted becomes,
a knitted collection of skeletons.

We ducked under the storefront awning, soaked;
when you saw my face you pushed our way through to the stove.

I remember your eyes were black as basalt
not cooled, shot
with blood like particles
still glowing. You were one
day from drowning, then.
One day from taking
the chance that there was something other
than this bog.

We wondered, afterward, if our darkness was imaginary;
if even the missing names in the registry
were some foolish joke, or ghost
of a story someone wrote in prison
and scrawled on a stray sheet of paper.

Because, why else the lilies?
How else could men carve the frieze?

We had to believe this was hand-blown,
not something God let drop
to crack with a snap of twigs
or breaking glass.

After winter, we thought those things. Such
damp and heavy coats we peeled
from us!

I heard the change in your voice
as told me you saw a morning glory bloom
and fill with bees
one after the other that morning. Your

wonder at the unknown,
the bare child of you,
decided there was something to be lived.

We signed papers by July, and you
said you were (and you still are),
sad I could never meet your mother.
You felt the calluses on my hand,
and I knew without words.

But now we stretch out under moonlight.
Hoping against rain, and not –

Hoping rather that our walls of one window
will open into something wider still. A dream

I had on our first night back –
you told me I was right – said rain was coming.

We wind
our way to Poland, Gdynia instead
of Krakow.
It seemed
as if twilight
was thick with clouds
of swifts.

We held
a ceremony for meteors under
the sky in August. Perseids
ripe, and dripping of time.

Why don’t we take the road?
You pointed to the river: there –
you said, was the road – 

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