River to River
After Jen Bervin / After Quan Barry
River spidering across the wall, sailing
through the air. River flashing with silver
sequins fastened to sunbeams. River always
in pieces, a torn ribbon streaming everywhere.
River carving out a canyon through the years,
seen from a sudden grassy overlook,
an old bridge, a new shoreline, endlessly
crossing and recrossing our lives. River
this winter with sixteen eagles alert
and searching. River unfrozen and pooling
around the ankles of trees in springtime,
daring us closer. River asleep inside
the black night like a spent lover,
dreaming of being a chandelier of rain,
first velvet wet drops on bare skin. Go,
go on. Conveyor belt of clouds, destroyer
and preserver of towns, longest breath
of the earth, tell us what floating means
to you. Some trees are weeping, river.
Speak of all you carry and carry off
in river song and river silence. Be horse,
be ferry, carry us from now to next to.
River, I’m done with fading shadows.
Give me daylight broken and scattered
across your fluid transparent face,
come meet me with the moon and the stars
running and tumbling along your sides.
River swinging open like a gate to the sea,
time’s no calendar of months, you say,
but water in the aftermath of light.
Your drifting cargo tells us everything
arrives from far away and long ago
and ends in the body, boat of heartache
and ecstasy we pilot, in quest of passage also.
River we call Mississippi or Mekong,
sing us forth to nowhere but here,
with your perfect memory be our flood.
Copyright © 2019 by Hai-Dang Phan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“This poem emerged from the serendipitous confluence of numerous sites and sightings, including Jen Bervin’s luminous exhibition ‘River’ at the Des Moines Art Center, a sentence by Toni Morrison (“All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was”), a poem by Quan Barry (‘Black cricket in the doorway, on the ceiling, in’), weekly drives across the Mississippi, almost daily walks down to the Iowa River, and numerous rivers I’ve known growing up in the Midwest. Invoking and apostrophizing these rivers one and many, the poem became a deluge. Writing ‘River to River’ I was reminded of how poetry exceeds, overflows, and reroutes the ordinary course of language, evolving new forms, new ways in and through the world. At the same time it feels like an ancient way home.”
Date Published: 2019-09-03
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/river-river