If the River Could Dream
SUNY Jefferson
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If the River Could Dream

Bob Comenole
If The River Could Dream
North Country Writers Contest 2019 Honorable Mention, Poetry

I’ve seen the doubters
come into the light
between West Carthage
and Black River Bay
watching the floodlane
carry away slabs
of bridge, mill and dam
great blocks of granite
flowing like wafers or rinds
On such a night I was born
in this knurly green shanty
on a stone ledge. . .north bank
of the coffee-colored watercourse
Eighty years ago,
on our 9th birthday,
my sister went out
across flat water
to retrieve a lure
and never came back
I’ve waded out into the safe places
rinsed my bandaged hands
and washed my undone face,
Never have I thrown so much
as a peach stone out into the stream
I learned the river’s song,
Still, I listen and rehearse the lines,
Rarely do I sleep through the night
waking at that clock-same hour
coming out to my yard to smoke
and watch the river flow
Twice, when I was young
I pitched myself down
into the rapids
weary, scorned and numb
with prayers of release
letting go of mouth and muscle and sky
but the flood would not take me
Tonight, barefoot and sleepless,
I watch the yawning river,
the white waters of the black river,
for the first sign of the river rousing
rousing to dream
They come so seldom, these dreams
perhaps twice each year
Under a starless dome & some low-lying clouds
my ear funnels the rumble and roar
of these ceaseless waters,
froth & foam, voltage juice, dashing the wall of gorge
opposite Judy’s Tear Drop Inn on the other bank
Ions churned from the turbid currents
spray comfort into my bones
and as the river convulses,
battering battered islets,
its mist dazzles my face
And so, in this late hour, the first dream appears
some sort of phosphorescence rising
The river seems to levitate,
now a full four fathoms above itself,
and in its somnolence begins
tossing merry fish high out of water,
the way doting fathers sling infants
up into soft blue sky: pike, pickerel, walleye
This is the river’s dream,
and landing at my feet:
trout, bullhead and bass
drawing clean and even breaths
A second dream appears:
in which the melt of history comes rushing by,
summoned from every tributary,
all that the North Country ever was,
a kaleidoscope of farms, factories, fears,
rising up, prospering, decaying,
collapsing into the watershed,
debris of the river’s industry,
broom-handles, sewing machines, iron plows
railroad brakes, bedsteads, baby carriages
remnants of foundries, paper plants, flour mills
trinkets of the Iroquois
And now the river, slumbering still, tossing and turning,
amasses its own shocking force
invoking wild and ferocious energies
drawn from unknowable places,
headstrong and urgent and scrupulously tender,
re-assembling wrecked foundations,
shattered steeples, crumpled barns
trying, despite its own fingerless infirmities,
to rebuild this fallen land, the torments of time
In the final dream, slowly taking form:
those who’ve perished in its depths
And the fierce benevolence of current and wave
contrive to give them air, to kiss their eyes,
Trying, trying, trying to toss them back
             to the resuscitating shore
a soldier, a boy in dungarees
four nuns in a ’30s sedan
Pierre Pharoux
my sister Eve
but never quite able
Morning arrives, I go back to bed and sleep through fall
              and most likely winter, too
a thaw comes to Big Moose high in the northern forests,
              the tannic waters swell and accelerate
              and we brace for the torrents of spring
Sometimes, though. . .
              sometimes all the river wants is to whisper,
              to be at peace with itself
              but it does not know how