Narcissus on the Banks of the Haw
by Katy Boyer
When you pointed me to the river, I pondered
on the bank as the sun descended to the field.
You told me that I was in the reed and rot
of the place, that my face was lying beneath
curtains of dark water.
But underneath the swollen Haw, eels were slick
on slick, seaweed-hidden, minnow-hungry.
Nothing more was there for giving. I looked
into the blind brown, searching, futile, for my face
among river grass and trash.
The rooks saw. They watched from gold wheat
perches and haw-hawed at me and my weedy mirror.
A bottle floated downstream. Not the yellow-olive
of glassy message bottles, but the battered placid
of plastic. A lonely eel
had squirted her eggs into the bottle and left them
to travel far, ranging wide. The bottle disappeared,
through whirling eddy, out of sight around the bend.
What else was there to do? I went straight back
In the clearing, a rook cawed and dove for eel, grasping
a long brown spiral just darker than the water
in black talons. A half-eaten minnow dangled
from the captive’s mouth. I sank deeper into mud
wondering whether the clutch of lilac marble eggs,
rolling in their vessel, would make it past the rocks
and down to docks. Still, no reflection worth seeing.
Only misshapen gleamings off of beryl bottles
tossed up by bicycle tires. The rooks burbled loud,
and the cloud-dank sky was rendered grave and plain
onto the Haw’s roiling. I was starving for you,
for substance as bright and soft as mud and wriggling
for the one whose hand could clasp or clap across
my face, for my loving Nemesis. Am I the eels, slimed,
darkened by reed? Am I the seed of slipping mother, spat
in a bottle and bobbing towards rapids? Or am I
the minnow, made for eating?
Is it cheating to believe I am the rook, satirical,
black-feathered? Or perhaps the weathered bank
of River Haw herself? Certainly not. Maybe rot
and filth from the upstream dump, stinking, clouded
styrofoam. You, who led me here
by deceptive, gentle hand, pull me from this place,
pull me back on iron hook, as a fisherman, like you
know who I am.