Simple. River —

I have a simple question. Tell me:
What do you really look like?

I edge along the river bank,
My feet are wet, my head is hot
From where the sun is hitting it
With all the blaze of noon —

The river’s scent is everywhere;
It’s in my nostrils, to the back,
And every breath feels like the first
I ever must have had

For water, warmth and sloshing sounds
Are memories for all of us;
For though we will take different paths,
We all start out the same

The river’s simple, and a boon;
The day is bright and full of glad,
And though I may have lost my name,
It isn’t all that bad —

For life’s a search when you are born a seeker –
What doesn’t kill you, sure can make you weaker —
But weakness is a power past most men,
The river’s simple, but beyond my ken

I thought about the question, long and hard.
I didn’t want to answer it at all.
The shameful feeling goes a long way back,
Well past the reach of middle age recall —

But teenage me will answer:
“I look stupid.”
And twenty-something me:
“I’m hideous.”

I do not have to leave my home for insults;
Or my own mind, so cruel, invidious —

The questioner now waits for my reply;
And either I must answer, or say why —

It’s funny how sunburn works:
I’m completely unaware of it while it’s occurring
And painfully aware of it once I get back home.

I leave my wet things to dry, and take a shower;
The water there lets me know exactly what is sunburned,
And just how badly.

So the river’s scent gives way to the scent of aloe;
As I place it everywhere I can reach,
Then spray the other spots on my body as best I can.

Like a brother or sister who you tease mercilessly,
But love with all your being, I
Love this body I was given, even though
I abuse or even, sometimes, hate it at the same time.

The questioner still waits, and so I answer:

I am five feet, ten inches tall.
I weigh two hundred and fifteen pounds.
I have a million freckles, virtually no hair, and a
Beard that is mostly gray.
One of my two front teeth is badly chipped.
My bottom teeth are crooked because
I refused to wear my retainer when I was seventeen.
I wear thick glasses because I’m more-or-less blind.

My wife always tells me I’m photogenic, but then,
She loves me, so her tastes are unaccountable in that way.

… there was a pause, and then the questioner asked again …

I know that, but
What do you really look like?


I notice as I close the shower curtain
That there is sand from the river on the bottom of the bathtub now.
Silt: old deposits that get into everything, and end up everywhere.

Like air, or thoughts, or questions:
All those things that get into everything, and cover all of our
Would-be shiny surfaces and fancy new gadgets and toys.

Simple river silt. It’s everywhere.

So, reader: what do you really look like?

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2 Thoughts to “Simple. River —

  1. Depends on who’s looking; I myself think I could pass for Merle Haggard’s identical twin brother. Remember when as children, all we saw in a friend was a friend? 🙂

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