Wherever the river bends, it floods
when the rain has kept on for days and nights.
A bird flies the curves and a little boat
takes the cross-currents as do the fish.
True, the tide is rising, and the river
is slowing as it flows towards its thin mouth.
Begin again and go upstream from the mouth
as if you were a bird on the first-told flood.
This time you have no ocean, but a river
to travel over, landing only at night
to rest and chew a mouse you catch, or a fish.
One morning, before the light, you spot a boat
floating in the eddy of a curve, a boat
with no one aboard, pointed toward the mouth.
You are amazed at its movement. Like a fish
it is gaining on the rising of the flood
by staying near the surface. Now the night
has gone, and you must head up-river,
turning with a wind that stands the river
up in waves against its flow. The little boat
is bowing now, and will, until the night
comes and the wind reverses toward the mouth
then flattens and leaves the boat to the flood
that pushes it as it pushes every fish.
You, bird, are going up, and, with the fish
The boat is headed down the climbing river.
Each will reach a zone beyond the flood,
but others stay on the curving banks, neither boat
nor bird, but way-stations for the source and mouth.
Flooding water rises equally at night.
and they neither pick nor leave their spots. Oh night,
oh lighter day, would that they could dive like fish
and bottomfeed, then take off for the mouth,
down the entire length of the river,
rising only to float with their friend the boat,
at the mercy of the ever-rising flood.
Before the night, the dam is built, the flood
comes feeding like a fish with open mouth,
lodging at each river-bend a sinking boat.
Retired children’s librarian Alan Bern’s poetry books: No no the saddest and Waterwalking in Berkeley, Fithian Press; greater distance, Lines & Faces, his illustrated broadside press with artist and printer Robert Woods, linesandfaces.com. Alan earned first runner-up in The Raw Art Review’s “Mirabai Prize for Poetry, 2020”; he won a medal in 2019 from SouthWest Writers for a WWII story set in Italia; he won the 2015 Littoral Press Poetry Prize. Recent photos: unearthed, thimblelitmag, WANDERLUST. Alan performs with dancer/choreographer Lucinda Weaver as PACES: dance & poetry fit to the space and with musicians from Composing Together, composingtogether.org.
A remarkable poem that shifts me along with its complex shifting rhythms, observers and whelming identities.