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.