Here is the poem The Creek in its entirety. Thank you, readers, for bearing with me in these three stages. I appreciate the helpful and thoughtful comments thus far. I welcome further conversation about this poem.
Our creek was not like the ones in the books
There was no waterfall, no deep, blue hole, no long placid runs
like those in the calendar pictures.
Ours was just behind the back yard
and through a thicket of sumac and brambles,
vines and nettles
and poison ivy
I had to crawl through.
This was the snaking strip of land
That defied development
A steep drop into that narrow ravine
It ain’t even worth trying to mow it.
Why did I ever think it worthwhile to skinny through all of that, just to see that measly trickle
except that when I entered that vale I vanished from the world.
There were no fish, not even a minnow, though I searched every puddle and suspected that the older boys might have known something I didn’t; might have gone farther and found a secret place.
We younger boys gave names to the biggest rocks. I found this under the skillet rock. Me and Rex turned over the grand-dad rock. Didn’t find nothin’.
When I remembered, I brought a coffee can with me. Red Folgers with a dangerously sharp rim. I put in moss, leaves and sticks and half an inch of water and there I kept my prizes: crawfish, the salamanders we called lizards and now and then some strange, eyeless creature that no one could name.
Once it rained very hard for a long time and I waited, wondering.
Alright, you can go out now, but you take those boots off on the porch. I don’t want you tracking mud onto these floors.
I ran across the soggy lawn to my tunnel through the brush and weeds. Halfway down the ravine, I heard the laughter of the rising water.
Across the way
the fat, brown milk
tugged at the trunk of a tall ragweed
pulling the stem down
then releasing it
pulse after pulse
like the arm of a metronome.
I stood there and surveyed the wonder, satisfied. I thought,
like the once starved and now accepted lover,
I always knew it could be this way.
I forgot my boundaries and pushed down the stream
over logs and stones and,
doing the forbidden,
wading the torrent where necessary
until I was out of that hollow an onto a broad back lawn
that I had never seen before
now a brown lake
big enough for a canoe.
I ran back home with the confidence that the world had come to me and took my fishing pole from the garage and worked my way back into the ravine, pointing the pole before me, like a fencer’s foil, through the narrow passage.
In the house with the flooded back lawn a man and a woman sat at coffee. There was a picture-window in the back of the house, looking onto the flood
geraniums in the sill
That day’s newspaper, still wet on one edge, opened across the coffee table.
The man stood up and said
Look out there. Now we got a kid fishing in that mud-hole.
She looked through the window.
Don’t you run that little boy off. You let him play.