Cumberland Falls

       O, let them be…
    Gerard Manley Hopkins

In high school the biggest dare was to slink 
over the slick rocks flanking Cumberland Falls, 
where the wide but shallow river dives 
seventy feet into a deep pool of froth.
There, people say, catfish big as men twist 
and slither, awaiting suppers sped
their way. You can see a rainbow at night, 
shimmering on the mist during a full
moon and a clear sky. This is true. I snuck
behind the green curtain once with my best
friend, whose name I won’t say because he
never came out. Just as we reached the veil
of water where we would disappear
into another world, I slipped. My right
leg slid down the cold boulder and before
I could plunge into the churning chaos
where torrent met river, he grabbed hold
of my hand. I was so electrified
by his touch I didn’t think of how close
I was to being swept away.
Instead I thought how a small moment
of ecstasy is akin to drowning.
He held on for a beat longer
than necessary. The roar behind
the falls was a deafening symphony heard
only by those brave enough
to penetrate this darksome cavern
carved by centuries. Fern-laden, alive
with the smell of moss. A secret cathedral
made of wildness and wet. We were mesmerized,
and stood watching the cascade as if frozen
yet, as if we might see through to the other side.

Reprinted from The Bitter Southerner. Copyright © 2023 by Silas House. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved.