Here, out of the rain, under the arches of a stone and timber bridge, beside a creek in an open-ended grotto, I’m inclined on cobbled rip-rap, my slope determined by the Corps of Engineers whose purpose in life is to straighten meanders, to keep all streams and people from over-filling assigned places.
This is the home of trolls, the guardians of roads over water, the ugly grudgers of travelers’ rights of passage, the toll-takers who stand in the way, pursing their lips and knotting their thick foreheads, stuck at and with cross-purposes, always managing somehow to outwit themselves.
Is that what I’ve come to be? Who else would be sitting here but a troll? I knew it was going to rain. I knew I wouldn’t find what I was looking for (whatever that might have been) in the woods on a day like this. I knew I’d be angry with myself, the weather, with miles of clear-cut stumps, none of which would change for the better, no matter where I looked or what I said about them.
Now something is rumbling closer, is looming near like the dropped hammer of Thor. It’s making a snarled whirligig of thunder above and beyond the road. Now it’s booming right overhead and howling, roaring and dwindling downhill, then finally dying.
Once upon a time, in a physics class, given the shapes and measurements of trusses and the location and the dead weight of a logging truck, I could have foretold and even explained the resultants of forces on any part of this gnomic mechanical structure except myself. But now I simply listen to that lumbering Ogre of Ogres fading away.
I hear again the soft rush of the creek. The air above the surface is vibrant. It doesn’t belong to the wind or the rain or the swift current under it. It breathes and gathers the barely moving shades of mist into apparitions, and within them now a small host of gnats is hovering and spiraling in a dance like interlocking spindles becoming each other, diminishing to half light and less and disappearing and suddenly coming back to light again as if they’d been waiting here to show me why.
A Woman Photographing a River
She stands on a cutbank, only ten feet above the eddying surface, bracing herself against a fir tree barely bracing itself with all that’s left of its roots before toppling, ending it all.
She’s focusing downstream across harsh light, risking her life on the spur of the moment for a quicksilver collaboration of bed-load and riverbed and the hard thrust of thaw from the mountains.
Her silhouette is under the glare of clouds and against the clouds reflected beyond her, and she and that tree are leaning as if caught in the act of falling,
but still making themselves known against the repercussions of water. At the edge of her depth of field, the stripped limbs of a snag are holding firm against what streams around them,
and she sees among the unrepeatable patterns what she wants us to remember, even in this small reach now passing over the rapids of her eye. She takes them in, the twists and tremors, spelling what’s beyond
and under them with a light touch of her finger, and now she turns that eye and the other eye behind it toward my naked eyes and what still flows between us.
David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return(Copper Canyon Press, 2012). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Classwas given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.