The River

was this great old mud-lipped
live thing at the end of the road,

was silver-shimmery
afternoon calm, 

was splash-laugh perfect
for skipping stones,
for swimming nowhere
fast in the shallows, 

was dad waist deep keeping us
corralled, keeping us safe from the raging
current we could not see,

was that lean island halfway out,
that scab of long blades you and I dreamed of
swimming to, of hiding on,
our own small kingdom of grass,

was two sticks dropped from the bridge
races to the rest of the world
we had only ever heard of,

was paddled, paddled, dragged canoe,
was one-point-two bodies
each year caught in a furious undertow,
a tragic story we didn’t believe,
small town myth intended to keep us tame,

until that swim-team girl I knew
with the water legs wasn’t fish enough, turned
into nothing but an empty seat,
nothing but a hushed name in the halls,

is still, there
after all these years,
coursing through my veins.