What the River Sees, What the River Knows
Collinsville, Summer 2015

By Virginia Shreve, Poet Laureate 2023-

This is the citizenry of the Town on the River.
A handsome man with kind eyes
walks his elderly pugs
along the riverbank
(later he drinks wine
in his small
perfect garden
sketches arches
and umbrella pines)
Two beautiful women
arm in arm
cross the bridge to the farmer’s market
they buy peppers, two kinds of goat cheese,
three plums
(they offer their visitor
so sweet and so cold)
Up the hill, the gentle painter
dreams in his studio
of light and Italy and the color of persimmons
sometimes a piano
The bearded man pokes under rock and rot
along the shore,
carapace and slime-gilded crevasse
finds all decaying things equally
and interesting
he wants to see what the river sees
he imagines he knows what the river knows

River sees cloudless sky, rippled
only by the shudder of wings
August a deeper chiseled blue
than July’s hazy dome
shadows are longer, ripeness perched on its own trembling peak.
A golden hawk soars above.

River knows etude and opera
parasoled picnickers in clover wreathes
someone plays a flute someone sings someone
falls in love

Does water have memory?

unveiled sun glints off the silver pikes
which will bloody Kansas
and the hard wild rapture of destruction
thunderboned roar of rush and smash
the 55 flood uncorseting the river of bridge, rail, dam, road,
tearing the child from mother’s arms she will never unhear the fading scream
the river will steal your breath
crush your ribs
knows the knucklebone of infant
as well as the spine of salmon
knows how the boy tried to save the woman
her foot caught in the rocks her eyes white with terror
he pulled her so hard he lacerated
her liver but it was too late
the river is unforgiven

River soothes the suicide
ebb and flow like beat and pulse
against bone
it is all right to go
it is all right

These days the river is genteel, sedate.
Brown-limbed boys plunge gleefully off the crumbling
concrete pilings of the old bridge.
In a blink, they will be the old men
meticulously tending
the train set in the museum.
But not yet.
Paddleboarders glide like brightly-colored
heavy-bodied water beetles.
Young women in kayaks
giggle at midnight.

Tonight the sky is Japanese pink
fog drifts like dream
below the lacy iron one-lane bridge
perhaps a lone fisherman up to his hips in
the slow cool water
stands unmoving
as if he were waiting for his picture to be taken
or even painted
Now twilight is pearled, then indigo
There are ghosts in the trees
stars caught in the net
of branches, a web of willow
moon rises, sliver or half or full-

River waits.
Reflects all beauties ‘til,
in love with themselves, they lean in
and just before touching
are once again swallowed
by the river

A handsome man with kind eyes
walks his elderly pugs
along the riverbank