Reading the River

We come to the river, you and I,
to know how the water might be flowing;
you in a plaid shirt, crimson against the pearl gray sky,

me searching for meaning in the way
the mist mutes firs, in how the fishermen
below the hatchery gather round smoky tailgate fires
and laugh low and swallow down beer, can after can
as the hours sweep by.

You’re the one who calls out, to ask
what they are fishing for and if they’ve had any luck;

I am going on and on about the nature of something
I don’t understand, looking for words
in the eye hollow of a salmon dead in the weeds,
the way it rots in its own silver skin.

Over and over,
lines are cast and carried downstream,

and the fishermen wait. I’m thinking
how this water will never show a clear reflection
of you and I, how I am only standing half-balanced
on a stony bank, watching our figures ripple
a heart’s length away.

“Look,” you say, as if in answer,
though I’ve long since left off trying to explain.
“There’s a lot of strength underneath.”
And you wrap your arms around me and point
to where the river bulges moss-green and glassy.

When I nod, you rub your winter beard
into my bare neck to make me laugh,
and I ease back into the solid heat of your chest
and hope that somehow, it will be enough.

~Kellelynne H. Riley