Mudlark No. 51 (2013)

Tributaries of the Same Body

When plantain ripened, when there was gold  
to gather from above, tribal people joined  
cane to make rafts. A whole family, 
their whole harvest, rode the river to town. 

At the end of a trip, they let their vessel 
wash on. They tied, trusted, then left
the twine and cuttings. There was nothing 
they had to carry back on the walk upstream.

What motion might such boatmen have made 
when the last plantain was unloaded? 
Just an opening of the palm 
that held the rope, or a shoving away?

May the practice of the pose of release 
ease their loss now. Dams are stopping 
their river and their language is drying 
in the mouths of the last speakers. 

Can I hope that when they let go 
it was with a gesture towards endlessness? 
May I suggest that they built with abundant 
materials and can build again?  

I can’t claim to understand the end 
of a culture just because there is a house I loved
I no longer live in. The particulars I miss are so 
slight (and so, I have felt, irreplaceable).  

But I know that any travel away 
from where one has been, however small,
scrapes a kind of bottom. Trying to ease passage—
that’s why Americans dynamite our own rivers.

Tourists boat where I live now, floating on the cushions 
of rafts, heavy with gear and worry. So I can’t address
larger sufferings. How about, then, compassion, 
for them, for what seems foreign in my own country?

I’ll say it’s touching—the tourists—how they work 
at saving their own way of life, with first aid kits, 
food on ice, folding chairs. When I moved, I too 
wanted to keep everything dear with me.

We don’t know what to do for others. But care
is what loads overlarge packs. We fasten
lifejackets on dogs. Even in slight rapids, 
we hold the body in reach, the one child, tight. 

Rose McLarney | Imminent Domain
Contents | Mudlark No. 51 (2013)