Sunday, 15 July 2012

Swerve--By Phil Dansdill

Lucretius writes that the soul bears the finest and smoothest atoms,
but what of that boy who drowned at Four Mile Beach
four years gone now? He couldn’t swim, but would that have
mattered in the current’s swerve that took him down?
Was it the dreaded underwater panther, Mishibizhiw,
dragging him into the path of souls, dispersing him later
among the deep currents, Kitchi-Manitou nudging him
to the surface, eddied and spiraled into a soft night sky?

Epicurus writes that death is nothing to us, since when we are,
death has not come, and when death has come, we are not,
so I push off from Rotary Park, glad for drift, away from
the absolutes of ground, of heat, of words that echo like whispers in a void.
My river kayak slices southeast, coming fast on Island No.1
as I lean into first strokes, seeking a proper riverborne
rhythm, mindless, artless, necessary as breath.
A slight chop, sun allied to bow, paddles dip and drip in blue-green song.
Riverside’s houses slip by on the south, Island No. 2 glides close on the north.

Eliot writes, I do not know much about gods, but I think that the river is a strong
brown god—sullen, untamed, intractable, but this river takes a teal green turn
to the wider channel, Sugar Island maples and birches front lit in heat.
The ribbon of river widens to a tapestry of silver northwest wind and water.
Here is another river—wilder, colder, deeper, channeling three-story freighters,
silent as stones, displacing all gods, seeking release in Huron’s wide-boned coast.

But Gandhi said that God has no religion, and did you know there’s another
St. Marys River, another border water, rising in Georgia swamp, flowing east
across Florida, sweeping its gods to the sea.
Someday I’ll kayak that sister river with her heated kindred gods,
listen to her drift, her chop, her talk of the dead.

The wind lifts, warm at my back. I slide by the beacon with that mother
osprey evil-eyeing me coming and going as I turn back into the chop.
Now I dig into the strokes, thinking too much, working too hard,
like a voyageur portaging the weight of his gift.

Nietzsche asks, Is man only a blunder of God, or God only a blunder of man?
I cut quickly across the channel to hug the Sugar Island shore,
sun on my back, wind in my face, still digging into the chop,
bouncing west, easier to track a line into the wind. Shadows edge the shore.
I cup my hand in the river and it’s still cold, even in late summer.

Scraping through shallows, I turn into the inlet between Island No. 1 and 2,
seeking an easier path. It’s a different river, close isolate shores,
pines shading sweep, driftwood entwining banks in rioting brocade.
It’s a sadder river too, a century and more of chromium carbide weighting
the bed, tannery leavings, wasted overflow roiling the waters,
stunning the pike, walleye, and bass.

Melville writes, Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.
Two hours on the river is not enough to shed scales from my eyes, from my heart.
My fine and smooth atoms hum their song, silenced by the Sugar Island ferry’s
crossing blare. American Integrity heads downbound.

At dusk the river quiets, the wind drops into currents, Manitous nestle deeper in muck. Perhaps they’ll rise in dark, rustling the waters as they sweep across the channel,
or perhaps they’ll dig deeper, sleep longer in this colder year, remapping
the path of souls, waiting in silence to be reborn on the river.

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