River Bottom

Before my lungs, before
the oxygen’s indifference, there

was the river and I was in it
as my father was, dreaming

of boats, of the speed he would lay
into the keel, how he would take

the river’s glitter and chop, how
he would play the river, win

or lose, fast curve or cold baptism.
Would everything fall away

from him in the water, what he loved
or didn’t, his wife, his children,

fall away and come back with him
out of the river? And did my mother

dream sometimes of water, spread
hands across the yellow-veined stones

the green and brown ones, as if
to trade away the buoyancy

and hard heat of her life? For how long
and why do I see myself out of

my own body, cool and solid and bare,
my human face exchanged for the skin

of water? If I’m the river bottom
I’m looking up through clear water,

a child who once jumped off a dock
and went down fast.

Bellingham Review, 2004