There’s that bend
in the river again.
Calm water. No flames.
A movement born here.
I lost my mind
just a mile west.
The other side.
You accepted this
new me the next night
when we did our dancing
inside Euclid Tavern.
So many reinventions—
yours, mine, the river’s.
I thought we would
see each other again.
I’ve been wrong
about so many things.
Want to believe
you can keep morphing
unencumbered by a body.
Want to believe
you can still receive
It comes around once
a year like any other
with a morning,
noon, afternoon, civil
twilight reminder. The Cuyahoga
River at dusk. A boat docked
in the Flats. An outdoor stage. The opening
act. Guitars. Dance in black
leggings and a royal blue
floral button down baby
doll dress with pockets.
Is it mine? The first
kiss, beer on tap, another kiss,
more beer on tap. Stouffer Inn, magic elevator
carpet. Room service pizza.
Clothes off. Jokes on
all night. Nothing dies
within your reach
again. A child who would be
21 by now is not mine
or yours—is the night’s own.
Yesterday was another
years—but why keep
a tally? Yesterday
I heard his signature
song come tumbling out
of that Irish pub
on the mall. Part of that romance
on public transportation
series. The only kind I could know
other than this pedestrian love.
Really that’s all there is
for me not quite
half a lifetime later—so many
of the original players long gone.
If only you had come down
that warm June night.
To rescue her
from his leaping kiss, from
herself—you might have deflected
from his visage
to yours. Might have cherished
her beautiful catastrophe
a summer’s breath. River
to lake—lake to river
bed, you might have left her
word in the end.
“Let’s put our heads together, start a new country up.
Underneath the river bed, we burned the river down.
This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced, and sang.
Take a picture here, take a souvenir. Cuyahoga. Cuyahoga, gone.”
—from the song “Cuyahoga,” by Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe (REM)
Back in ’88 the hottest heat
wave to hit parts known only to me
for those it was so cold
stories. Post-modern infill spills
onto Old Main Street. The big river never looked
so sad. I would not wade across it
for decades. Just not ready to embrace
that middle seam going all the way up. I didn’t know
the young, crooked one would boomerang
back into my life. I would grow
into the bridge between those two
that would never meet outside
my heart before it became a souvenir.
Dream. Premonition. Mortality
begins now. I give him an anecdote
in a letter—he’ll never receive
my gift. If equilibrium exists, where’s my
ecstasy? My sister and I watch boats go
up and down the terrifyingly calm
Cuyahoga. Aboard the floating
Heartbreak Hotel, it’s all so close—
the banks of the river, a rail bridge ahead, the crushing
of fantasies. But it doesn’t happen
that way. The world begins to tip in a slowed motion. Sights
and sounds expand beyond their original limits. I watch
from another planet as he walks up the aisle. A kiss,
a hand in hand. Shall I be so bold
as to ask you? He asks. We kiss
as if the elevator door would never open again. Lovely
feet and hands. Brown eyes that turn cloudy
green or bottomless black at will—not his. When
he makes love, he talks. He loves
those vocal chords. I retreat
to the lobby bathroom to check
if I’m still wearing
my own skin. Is it mine? Still? Indeed.
Gravity is overrated.
The first time I could have thought
I’d died and gone to heaven, I didn’t.
Only years later would I see
how one night of live music inside Toad’s
Place would be all I ever needed—
one almost lethal obsession kicking
in, another stubbornly tame one sparked
and filed away in a Midwestern vault
for safe keeping. Do not remove for more
than a decade (and a half). The first time
I did think I’d died and gone
there, I took a wrong turn
onto a riverboat and got trapped tracing
a wake aft. To cross it without spilling
into myself has become a new preoccupation
about to break the surface. Ready
as I’ll never be and all other stolen
turns of phrase twisted inside out.
The details have begun
to fade—was it June
or July? New York or
Cleveland? Who were you
opening for? Was a body
of water involved? I could sprinkle
these memory ashes
downstream into the river
deceit. The truth:
I haven’t forgotten even one
detail. Down to the pocket
in my dress, later chewed and torn
by an innocent Airedale.
The truth? Do memories drown
when they’ve served their purpose?
Is two decades long enough?
What if they float?
Is this the right number
of times to have lost
myself to this sound—yours? To fly
solo over traffic
air currents low enough
to see each housing
into its cul de sac
mortal coil, to trace
each bend in the rivers between
Cincinnati and Cleveland—Little
Miami, Mohican, Cuyahoga,
Chagrin. To be high
enough to know it is possible
to survive this state
without losing my sense
of direction for the gathering
of waters. The tally stretches across
the greatest mud. Take me home.