Image: Sky river, behind the Cathedral
This story came in dreams, from IMs, in bars. I wrote most of it in snatches on ferries one magical year when I went to the OP a dozen times chasing other dreams. I was afraid to type it, that I would break it. I finally did (typed or broke or both) on an airplane. Too wordy to be a poem, not structured enough to be a story, it’s more of a punctuated dream. A riversong. None of it ever happened, but it is all completely true.
Water is dream-colored, ubiquitous.
My whole life, I was there and not there. I coalesced from water into seed and zygote, gill-breathing in my mother’s womb. Stages of the brain developed into warm blood, but always surrounded by water, full of water, made of water.
All streams have fish, if you follow them far enough. When I was a boy, in my backyard was a swale that became a ditch. The ditch went into a blueberry marsh, which a was as impenetrable, and frightening, and dark, as Latin mass. The cross-ditched marsh collected on the other side into a rivulet that then ran under an ancient fieldstone bridge. The rivulet wending across the woods and fields joined a stream in the ancient orchard. My first stream. Far too small for fish. I followed it to the sea, rodless, flyless, unknowing, where sea-run brown trout first spoke to me, unlistening. The sea, in turn took me to other streams, rivers and their trout. And the trout took me to her.
I met her in a bar. She took me dancing . A ONE-and-two-and-a-three, rock step. .She was a frost-glade barefoot dancer and I was a stumble-foot-trout-eyed dog. It was like trying to learn Aikido in a street fight.
We do not swim freely in the ocean of life. I had been caught and released so many times I’d failed to notice this one hook, buried deep, pulling me on against the current. I had not fooled her, she never rose to my fly, returned my attentions. But I had stalked her, seen her, it seemed enough. I thought I was free. It is only when a woman slips from fantasy to probability that can she break your heart. This is seduction. Dangling you on the line between. This is where madness lies. From that moment, I was tangled in her cast, foul-hooked or fair I cared not. .I was out of water everywhere I went. But I went, because you can bay at the moon in the sky, but you can only touch it in the water.
Another taught her to fish. The last thing she said to me was “It’s the most romantic thing I ever did. I want to fish everywhere.” I would’ve spoken poetry to her, the words suspended in my mouth like a hover of brook trout, levitating resplendently, then banished in astonishment to secret lairs by her shadow thrown upon their pool. Later, long after she passed, they would re-appear gasping on the bank, all of their beauty gone in the inspection of their demise. Instead, I gave her all of my equipment and she went into the world. I lived in water years. How far does a drop go in a year, in a river, to the sea, up to a cloud blown across a continent down to a plain, deep in the ground, percolating? Or, maybe frozen forever in time and space, not moving. I no longer felt water or wind; sun or rain; day or night; summer or winter. I learned water is not the opposite of fire, but its complement. It could not put out the torch of her flame.
Memory is a brook, becoming a stream, becoming a river, unbraiding into a delta until you cannot sort it out. Smoke in your marrow; blood breathes it, part of you, intangible. She faded like dreams fade.
The heart is a wave and the cast a pulse, building in the shallows of the capillaries, coursing in the veins. I’d stopped using barbs. I’d stopped using hooks. I’d stopped using flies. Where there had been a rod, my arteries reached out to my ligaments vibrating, backed by sinew, to exit the finger tips as a fine spray mist landing soft as fog on the water, a drop of intent.
Fish are ovoid, silver, sleek, their cold blood drives passion, but they don’t care who loves you.
I did not catch fish; I had become a river. The water flowed through me, in me, cold, deep, swirling. I became what trout seek. Fish swam in me, at home in my bloodstreams, rising to my pulse, sipping at my desires as they floated by cast upon the water. I spoke to myself and the fish listened: I beckoned and they came. We whispered together like lovers and satiated, drifted apart.
I floated through time; it marked my sides in lurid spots. I forgot where home was. You can do that until you you remember it is the last place you were you on a summer night with all of your dreams before you. Then, like a salmon you taste it in your cells and it draws you back even when you cannot feel it, slowly reeling you in. I realized the follies of the heart were not spent and that I stalked bigger game.
I never did learn to dance, but in the river I still counted my steps – ONE, two and three – and never stumbled.
Once, in Oregon, I smelled her, pine in an oak forest. In Argentina, a glint of auburn hair at river’s bend. Once on the Pemigewassett she was across the river from me. I forded under the weight of need, swimming in the shoals of her breath, but as I crossed, the river changed direction and I could not defeat the wily flows. Her casts, harmonic, disappeared downstream. Upstream from me.
She picked up stones on the river, painted verses on them. I used to see the places where the stones had been, memorizing their depressions, knowing I would find them later on other shores. I had found them on the Ur, and once, chumming with the rust of my soul drinking samogon in an illegal Quonset hut bar on the Usk, lying on the floor and looking up, under the table, a note wedged:
With age swept to the sea
Where flying done
To the voids of eternity
I ran to the river that ran through me, and she was there. I had come home with all my dreams before me. I walked towards her but the water was upon me, pushing me away, until I surrendered and with every step I became more liquid, dissolving. Subsumed, I flowed up upon her, lapping at her legs, a momentary eddy, a tug at a smile, being-to-being in a laminar caress, pulling away too quickly in turbulent vortices. I decoalesced. It was luminous, incandescent.
On my tumbling way, the trout swam through me; my blood their water, caught in my dreams. As it ever was.