Swimming to Russia

I longed to swim to Russia, let the St. Lawrence

carry me away from childhood summer

minnows feeding in the sway of reeds

along the shore where I swam

within the gentle precincts

of our river raft. Only that far.

 

I knew my river joined whales

and in the afternoon, dolphins, dark current

opening its mouth to estuary

swallowing high waves, salted, struggling

east to meet the River Don

while I stayed home.

 

Our Jewish neighbour, the man

who wept all summer in his cottage,

warned me not to swim to Russia

to the River Don. He said, swim here

journey here with your river

and when I asked Mama

she shrugged, pinned sheets

on the clothesline for the wind.

 

My hair grew too long for the swim

to Russia, and I drew red lipstick on my mouth

to work in the city. I watched the river

my childhood friend, run blue

in the distance, its flow framed

between buildings

and I looked for it from the bus

in the morning

my face on early windows.

 

The sky kept course, azure to the east

Beneath it, the river held its currents

traveled without me from then on

except in dreams, where water

laps, flooding the edges of memory—

 

Belovèd river, belovèd of the man

who wept inside his cottage—the river

where my childhood made its journey

summer after summer, shore to raft

and back again, the other side of war.

 

Blow

Blow to her throat

ended the good life she dreamed

of living, her funeral cortège

swaying uphill to the chapel

and just before Easter

what a shame—

she should have fought back

instead of hitting the mirror

with her fist.

you did it to yourself

that bruised eye

I said

you should have

bloodied his face instead

I said

you can be brave

if you want, you’ve got it in you

but she didn’t listen

they don’t do they, running off to the shelter

then back again, all forgiven

‘til next time

believe me, even if she’d lived

she wouldn’t have stood up to him

sweet girl, no cheeks left

to turn, like it says

the pearl of great price

nice he found that white dress

to bury her in

before they took him away

she loved silk.

Brendan

My sheep wandered, yea, my flock was
scattered upon the face of the earth….

-Ezekiel 34: 6

______________________________________

I ran away young,
canal at the end of the street,
floated past locks to the river
in a leaky ship.

Cold sea voyage, journeyed stowaway
with sick, plagued hiders
rogues, storm-riders
and starved

Found red-headed relatives
brother swallowed by drink
sister by waves in a foreign city
drowned. In empty ports
my dark decades rolled
kelp-whipped days frayed to thread
grey names, faces thin.

I remembered childhood
longed for lost light
through cloud
traveled back steerage
seaweed slow against the surge.

Survived the crossing
dreaming
of a bird of paradise
eyes glowing gold
down the wall
years of light
leading me home.