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A River’s Work, A River’s Song

You told me something once 
about life, how to live it; or
rather, I saw it, one afternoon,
in your eyes. I see now 
there’s no easy way out 
of this. Every July, drought 
or not, the hydrangea push out  
their lacy blooms; and the blooms,  
having opened to their fullest, hang their heads—
not in shame of their newly-formed bodies;
exhaustion maybe; or thankfulness.
But what do hydrangea know of thanks?
And this is not that kind of poem; 
not this morning. This morning, 
as if overnight, though it, of course, 
is never the case, the spring 
at the corner of the yard is gushing 
clear, cold, humming its way  
to the river; and the river, for today, is not 
a metaphor of life, its passing; is just a river; 
doing a river’s work, singing a river’s song.
Let’s leave it at that.


It’s taken until now, which
is to say, many years longer
than it should have—but what
you were trying to show me
is slowly drifting into focus:
to love; to grieve—the distinction is not
a clear one, though we often experience it
as such; is more akin to
the same word in a different language:
as in pajaro is still
“bird” even if we don’t immediately
make the connection. Well, not exactly,
but you get the point.
Night here, in the human way
of experiencing the world, is especially
dark. Not a single streetlamp. No
passing cars. The light comforts
the only way we’ll let it: there are
so many stars, it is almost blinding.


Stopping myself, in the immediate aftermath,
from weeping, was, most nearly, impossible.
And the overnight quiet, which, before,
had always delivered a sense of calm,
a peacefulness, did not make the day's events
         —though I did,
         briefly, mistake the calm
         for respite—
more reasonable;
did not bring any greater understanding.


The fog breaks, ever so slightly, allowing
the mountain, off in the distance, to become,
if only in memory,
something we recognize as permanent,
as anchor, before obscuring again.


Maybe grief, in the end,
is the last of us to stay;
an echo before the silence, after.


The fog lifts, the landscape returns to focus;
the days begin to fill with things
we expect, can count, have come
to count on: the mountain to the south,
its three peaks, the river,
its steady journey forward:
a listing that allows those of us
left behind, here, to, if not forget,
at least continue on.



One green leaf lets loose,
floating, almost dancing—
         swaying at least,
         isn’t it?—
to the river below. And the river,
for just an instant, slows
to catch it before, as if recalling
that letting go, that giving over,
is what’s expected, if not wanted,
allowing it to gently sink
to the soft silt of the bottom.


All summer I have weighed the difference
between life as intent, meaning
purpose, and living—as if the answer, the answering,
could lift this burden, or in the very least, lighten
the load. Weren’t our days collecting the smooth
black stones from the river’s bottom
more than the wall of stones we created
in the shallows? Isn’t that what you told me, once—
or rather tried to show me?
Intent matters here; as much
as the lack thereof; as instinct. A leaf
falls, the sun filtering, now, through
the canopy; the rose reaching towards it: a world
we’re so used to seeing we don’t see it at all.


Let’s do this, you said.
How about this?



TK bio pic.JPG

Terry L. Kennedy is the author of the poetry collection, New River Breakdown. Previous work appears in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Cave Wall, Birmingham Poetry Review, and South Carolina Review, and has been anthologized in, most recently, You Are the River: Literature Inspired by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He currently serves as the Director of the MFA Writing Program at UNC Greensboro where he edits The Greensboro Review.

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