the river was still widening as it went, as it carried me, thick mists rising
off it all day,
was still widening, yes, for a while longer, holding
the sky in its belly and back,
me on my back in the small of
my boat, rudder jammed, oar
lost or is it I tossed it
some long time ago
when I imagined myself
to be free. In the distance I see, reflected in the spooling,
a pair of spyglasses lifted
by the surveyor – fitted out for life – and it seems he is laughing
at what he sees, so magnified, light splaying over the surfaces
the smeared faces of kings
whose lands are now vanquished,
clouds folding in the waters their rolled-up blankets
no longer needed for the ceremonies, the dancing,
controlling ebb, controlling
& like candy the benzenes the tankers before me have trailed,
& like wedding veils the foam made of monies,
a few millennia of monies,
no slack in that accrual,
no slowdown in that accumulation – we were fitted out
for life, armed with evolution & imitation,
trees casting their calligraphies deeper and deeper as they try to tell
the story of the bend we are now
approaching. A parrot flew over. It crossed the whole
river. I took a moment to sit up and
watch. Took in the setting. Took in the
dead forest, the ruined brick smokestack just visible
from a clearing, some columns still standing beyond it
someone’s unyielding idea of
Everything hangs in the balance, say the looping vines
the late red light begins articulating. Think about it, they scrawl,
try to remember
what it was you loved, try to clean up your memories
in time. The dragonflies begin as I lie back down.
I try to recall how I’ve gotten this far.
Every wing in the swarm also benzene-rainbowed
& clouding me
as we round the bend – & everywhere their eyes, their thousands of eyes.
They see nothing we see I think, and
am I a ghost now,
my left eye stung shut,
my right eye trying to make out what’s up ahead
as the light goes gold.
Isn’t it beautiful the old world says.
I try to remember. My one eye weeps.
Along the bank I make out the easels now. I see smocks and palettes,
and always that one hand up in the air
tapping & pointing, caressing the emptiness
through which whatever it is
they are seeking
arrives. Then down it goes
onto its canvas.
Represent me says the day. Quick. There’s no time to lose.
Represent my million odours.
Represent my shaking grasses
where the wind picks up and the river narrows and the dream of forgiveness is replaced
by desire.
Forgive me I think as the silt everywhere widens.
The light is failing. The dried banks show through.
Now the surveyor is packing his tools.
I feel his gaze cross my forehead inadvertently, feel the painter’s gaze
brush my eyes without knowing.
The smoke from the dead stack is filling the river,
though it’s just the riverbed
coming up to meet us.
The lover of dead things flies by gingerly.
First bats swing across so absent of greed.
I look down at my hands, the air shrieking a little.
I figure the new swarms will be mosquitoes.
I lie in my going. I had nothing to contribute.
The world was always
ready for the world.
The river is running thin.
I see the fish on the banks with no birds around them.
Human heart, I say to myself, what are you doing here, this is far too much
for you to lay
eyes on.
The young fish float in the brackish water.
The slowing current. The cries of the dusk birds like shattering glass,
one cry and they’re done.
To whom am I singing.
The winning ticket is still in my pocket.
The disappearing lovers are still in my satchel.
I have the stories we needed ready.
I understand the comings and goings called grief.
It is then that I see the river is ending.
The dusk hits its silver.
It thinks it’s a jackpot.
The water is down to a handful of jewels
tossed out here and there on the miles of dry sand.
That’s all I recall.
Then the keel hits and I’m tipped over gently,
as if to be fully & finally
poured out.
I am told by the cracks in the sand the whole length of the bed
to get up now, to gather
. I am told to hurry & join the line,
to take my place, prepare my
ticket & if I have a chance
to choose
. Told I might still get lucky,
might still get out.
Out to where, I wonder, looking back at my skiff,
at the millions of hulls
in this dried bend,
supplies strewn everywhere on the dead bed,
flashlights in dusklight picking us out.
Almost invisible, the plastics gleam …
Thus it was we came to no longer reach the ocean.
Flow rate failed. Flow direction failed. Surface water dis-
appeared. Subsurface
dried. I remember the spring, the headwaters, precipitation, swell.
I see again the currents
begin – the sweet cut into land of
channels, meanders. Remember the
turns. Put my hands
in the springs,
the groundwater recharge. The slow delicate fanning
of the drainage basin. The mouth, the confluence,
the downriver arrivals –
delta – sediment yield – salt tide –
open sea.

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