Poem of the Day, August 5, 2014

Two Rivers

 

I cross this river twice a day

at sixty miles an hour.

This city was built here

one hundred and eighty-seven years ago

at the confluence of these two great streams.

 

We know the names of the first settlers

and the first fort

But the lore of these rivers has been lost

Their names, Kanawha and Walhonde

Are only words on signs

No one even wonders what they meant.

 

Now these rivers are broad, grey channels

their banks neatly mowed

or covered with processed stone.

But one imagines great magnitudes

and asymmetric intricacies

long, laughing shoals

giant rocks

deep green pools

Virgin groves of overhanging sycamore and beech

Making shady tunnels.

Broad, teeming shallows

and places where the flow split into gnarled fingers

all untouched.

One imagines spawning runs

of monstrous, unnamed and vanished species

thousands moving against the current with a passion stronger than death

in answer to some silent call whose volume overwhelms them

Armies of dorsal fins slitting the frigid river’s surface

and scaly bodies, long as jungle snakes

slithering, twisting and flashing white over shallow rocks

and waiting in rows beneath a white curl of water.

So many that their migration

makes an echoing chorus of their million fin-whispers:

a seething, ocean sound

or like a steady rain on the river’s face.

 

One imagines painted tribesmen

wading with spears

impervious to the cold

seizing the day

and knowing the meaning of those names

Kanawha and Walhonde

In some language that had no word

for fence.

 

At 6:24 a.m.

On September 23, 2002

I saw this while crossing these rivers

at sixty miles an hour.

A great cloud of black birds

(I did not know their species)

Flew upstream from the bridge

a black morphing, whirling like a spirit unbound.

Dropping from the concrete piers,

they skimmed above the flat water

Racing upstream to some precise

but unmarked spot

just off the north bank

Was this an obedience to some ancient, ancestral memory

of some once fecund feeding water?

 

There they dove at the placid surface

in such numbers and force

that they tore the water

like strafing guns.

Then they ascended on a thousand vectors

and wheeled in lunatic circles

and dove again.

 

That is all I saw on September 23, 2002

In the eight seconds that I could see

As I crossed the bridge at the exit ramp

and dropped behind the office towers.

 

Copyright 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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