Constriction, Forward


I always sought
the hollows in the rolling
plains, something to
lean against as
my mind drifted
toward the sky-rangers,
their thin, white
horses. But
it was the openness
that drew me.
No crowds, no
crowding. And
the thunder that echoed
for miles always
seemed distant,
the light above testing
like a snake’s tongue,
the atmosphere’s temperature.
I was at my best
in those years, fresh
with bright beams
of a new architecture
braced by
scaffolding that
unfolded into the wild
constructions of
condensation. But those
were the castles
of a child, restless,
ridiculous on the
physical plane. In
the mind though,
fertile, a germination.
What grows, grows
upward, spreads
and overshadows
its beginner’s self.
I am still held
by the old margins,
by lines I have
arbitrarily drawn
as if a page is
too much space.
Cut it in half, in
thirds, and
tighten and constrict.
Notice how wide
the sky is, how
it extends
past the limits
of peripheral vision.
What we see is narrow
as a tree’s trunk,
a singular
reaching toward
light. Let me
learn to expand
as my lungs
expand, still within
the body but
taking in more
and letting go
and now building
capacity, modeling
those early winds.
What do the lungs
know about breadth?
Only their own limits.

     “I fell asleep in a river, I woke in a river,
     of my mysterious
     failure to die I can tell you
     nothing . . .”
             —from Louise Gluck’s “Landscape”

So little is clear, neither
the tea-colored water
nor my thoughts
which always seem to be leaning
for a view forward, searching
out a reflection, struggling
to translate into coherency
the babbling
that rises to the surface.

How could a self exist
without buoyancy?  I sleep.
I wake.  The water runs deeper
the further downstream we go.
What once seemed solid
now gives way, a great
weight dragged
along with me, earth
compounded into powder
like some exotic cure
prescribed for fevers.

I remove my jacket, belt, shoes.
Slide off pants, discard shirt,
and dive into the clouded
future to see if homecoming
is possible.  Maybe
I will encounter it
past the rapids.  Maybe 
during a storm-bereft season
when calm prevails.  Maybe . . .

Who knows why the heart clings
to its raft of detritus.

It’s tempting to think that
there is no end
to the distance.  On either side
mud-caked shore,
branches like safety barriers.

Because the river is not safe.
Teeth and rake-edged claws
and constriction and
venom wait like pirates,
for a likely victim.

The river takes me
where it wants and whether
or not I want to go.
And I must sleep sometime,
fall asleep and travel unknowing
far downstream.

This is the mystery, isn’t it—
not how I fail to die,
but how, carried along
night after night, I wake
to a morning that defines itself
as a kind of progress.

Chris Dahl tries to cup handfuls of murky pond-water and offer the contents for examination: tadpoles and larvae, algae, broken bits of leaves and other detritus, maybe even a spider testing its way along the surface tension. She hopes to point out liveliness and interconnectedness, odd patterns and, with luck, glimpses of a different world, half-hidden in this one. Her chapbook, Mrs. Dahl in the Season of Cub Scouts, was published after winning Still Waters Press “Women’s Words” competition. She has been published in a wide variety of journals and had poems nominated both for Best of the Internet and a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Olympia, Washington where she serves on the board of the Olympia Poetry Network and edits their newsletter.

Leave a Reply