The Camp River Poems
1 What the River Wants.
so it can move as if it has a destiny to fulfill.
Our bodies and our belongings and
the rain all at once, so it can swell up
like a tomboy and climb the trees.
2 The River as a Mirror of Self.
But you will only sometimes, after too much gin,
feel as though you waver that way.
You will forget how to do a back-flip.
You will forget how to skip stones.
You will forget songs that for three whole months
you couldn’t shake, like really bad hiccups.
You will tip beer into the river
as if it was asking for some, and that
may affect the river’s character judgment.
3 The River and Drowning.
Someday you will meet a gentle giant
who accidentally crushes your hand
when he asks: how d’ya do?
or, you will read Of Mice and Men
or, you will own a big german shepherd, who
despite his friendly intentions,
knocks all of your neighbors down.
You will think of Lucy, standing
by the edge of that ancient lake and wonder
what it was: the first suicide, a cramp,
a wild animal waiting for her to kneel
and then you will understand.
4 The River and Jumping.
Be careful. The river is an artist—
so the bottom is a graveyard of abandoned
sculptures: stone skulls that hope to steal
your brain when you plunge in head-first.
Know that, if it is winter, the impact may
not kill you, and you will not immediately drown
Instead, you will freeze to death,
which is a different prospect altogether.
5 Things to Ask the River.
Did you let me win?
Are there parts of yourself that you don’t like?
Do you ever get thirsty?
Do you end triumphantly or unnoticeably?
Do you scare yourself at night?
Don’t you feel as though you are always
thrusting through the neck of an inside-out shirt?
Do you ever just want to stop being a river?
When’s your birthday?
6 Swimming in the River.
If you ever find the drain, don’t unplug it.
Don’t swim near the roots of trees—
there are eels and evil nixies there.
Understand that the river has no personal stake
in whether or not you come up for air.
Don’t do it with dumb boys
and a box of Chablis.
Don’t stuff your bikini—the river
likes to uncover embarrassing truths.
Don’t do it in an electrical storm—
the river is strongly connected to things like
fate and temptation.
Don’t do it during a flood unless you have an arc—
the river does not understand that people
are no longer demigods.
7 The River and Mythology.
You will never remember these things—
you will have to look them up again and again.
Don’t ask your geography teacher where
Alph, the scared river runs.
Try to memorize the difference between:
oceanids, harpies, nereids, naiads, spites, mermaids,
oreads, banshees, sirens, lymphae, dryads, hamadryads,
Develop your own mythology. Remember
that time you canoed past the boundaries
and almost went over a waterfall. Remember when
you received a silver charm from an older woman.
Remember the rings of crocuses you
set afloat to honor Ophelia.
Remember when three girls came out
of nowhere and stripped you, throwing
your red shorts in the river.
8 The River and Aging.
Know that there is a point of diminishing returns
when it comes to your skill in the river. If you
can do a double somersault and swim from
one end to the other and back without
coming up for air, do it often, because
you won’t always be able to.
If there are lifeguards, flirt up a storm.
Remember what you looked like
in their mirrored sunglasses—it will haunt you.
Don’t throw rocks at the wrinkled necks
of sunning turtles.
You will both age, only, to the river
you will shrivel in what seems like seconds,
a plum left on the dashboard of a hot car, and you
won’t live long enough to see the river
change perceptibly, even if you eat wheat germ.
If you’ve had a perfect day there, I mean,
a really perfect day, don’t come back again
until you’re 80 and carrying a quiver full
of naked grandchildren that you let fly!
Graceful flesh arrows who arc into the water
and grin from ear to ear as every body
you ever loved surfaces and breathes again.