On the River Once

By Jack Slocomb

I remember the river going by

muddy and slow

and the moths flickering away lifetimes 

under the light of the lamp 

and you and I out on the porch

drinking warm beer,

watching the river going by 

muddy and slow

I was on the porch swing

with one leg rocking it

back and back again

in an easy arch 

like a cradle on rusty chains,

and you were leaning on the railing,

marking your measured hours of open air

behind a burnt bit of cigarette, 

your coal miner’s face lit up by it

There are memories that belong to this river:

upstream at Woody’s camp 

on an ancient Sunday of an afternoon,

I remember the sycamores and sunlight

and everyone we know playing horseshoes

and having supper

and me standing in the shallows 

on the water’s far side 

with my feet sunk into the sand and silt

heaving a rubber ball to you 

and you trying to catch it,

lunging up like a heron 

in a splash of wings 

Do you recall the reckonings I recall?

All trails and tributaries

and mountains learning me their language, 

all the awakening world

which could never be lost?

“You know this river’s gettin’ dirtier and dirtier,”

you said 

“There used to be sand enough for swimmin’;

and the fishin’, 

the fishin’ isn’t near half as good

as it once was here.” 

And you sat steady and still and silent,

watching the river running by, 

then opened up another beer 

and sipped in the cicada-humming air