The Forest, The River, The Thirst

Apéritifs: In the months leading up to the release of our book A Single Throat Opens, a collaborative lyric exploration of addiction (with Michael Schmeltzer), we will be compiling a playlist pairing songs with new writing to be enjoyed before the main course. Cheers, friends. (Get the whole list here.)

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What the river, full and green, wants today is an eye turned toward it. The bright glint of it aches where white tops form over some fallen thing like waves. The ducks glide past so swiftly it seems like the start of a joke. Their necks stretched forward toward an invisible finish line. Trees fallen over winter have gathered along the edges, collecting brambles, the bubbles from the tumbling water, brightly colored trash.

I’m tucked up in the forest, off the trail and away from the few benches. I was so close to finding something in the fullness of nature, pulling something sopping wet and alive from the river.

But then there is a woman screaming at a man and hitting him with her purse. The same man I saw ride by earlier on a small girl’s bike, iridescent purple and pink. His white hair parting against the wind, I noted the bike, and turned back to the river. But now I can’t turn from it. This cut, charged wire. Sparks flying, waiting to catch. The woman’s pitch reaches the nearby birds and they scatter. The man pushes the bike and it rolls past her as he turns and sits on the bench. He knows her, accepts this scolding. That’s when I notice the small girl behind her mother, staring at the river, pointing, trying to tell her mother about the ducklings in a line, swimming against the current. The small girl doesn’t seem to notice the yelling or her bike fallen in the grass, but wants everyone to see the ducklings, to see how miraculous it is that they are swimming against a current that takes fallen logs with it.

It seems impossible, this moment. I do not touch it. I do not join in on the yelling, do not ask the woman if I can help, do not tell the small girl those are Pintail Ducks and they hatched from eggs the color of homemade ice cream. I am embarrassed by my inaction, but I am thirsty, so I turn to walk home.

*Art: Darkness Descends, by Claire Brewster.

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