SHOW ME THAT RIVER

Michael Jewell


Lines Composed at the US Customs 
Border Patrol Checkpoint
Derby Line, Vermont  


The Great Barrier Reef is dying
and so are we, our hearts like vivid coral
slowly bleaching to a sickly gray.
A global pandemic

is on its way. Dr. Sanjay Gupta says
that it's true. I hear his voice
inside my mind, and I can't
keep it a secret anymore.

Each time I look in the mirror I see
still another person's face,
the mystery being how every
one of them 

looks exactly like mine. The seagulls
circling overhead seem uncertain
where to land. Whenever
they laugh they sound

as if they are weeping, their strident
cries piercing the air, scratching
the surface until it bleeds.
I pull into the line of cars,

waiting to cross the border
and I wonder if it's too late to learn
a new language, while I try
to decipher the phrases

visible from this side: Bienvenue
au Canada. Toute circulation
doit arrêter pour contrôle
aux Douanes.

I have become a refugee in my own
country, believing that the words
"enemy" and "amour"
share a single root in Latin.

They have never existed alone,
merging instead beneath the surface
where all contraries converge.
I want to cross that river 

that begins at the same instant
it empties into the sea, the difference
between the grief of separation
and the primordial forces 

of creation washed away, the immense
black hole said to be devouring
the other end of the galaxy revealed
in the cooing of a child 

newborn, infinitely tender as well as
terrifying. Yet somehow none
of the maps I have acquired
take me there,

and I am left examining blades of grass
for meaning, fallen maple leaves,
clouds, the sounds I hear
in the night, persisting.

 

 

A  PROVISIONAL  LIFE


When I crumple sheets of newspaper to start my
wood stove for the night, I come across a headline
announcing the increase of heroin use
in Vermont. A trash can full of discarded
hypodermic needles has been found
in Burlington's Old North End,

and my only response is to strike a match
to the news, distracting myself with an article
I skim in the Book Section telling how
Heraclitus claimed that all things
change to fire, and that fire,
exhausted, again disappears

into form. Nowhere can we expect stability
in a mutable world, and I think of my neighbor
who died last summer, wasting away
for months until he disappeared.
I saw his partner during our yearly
community garage sale and I noticed
that he was carrying 

a stack of used books under one arm
and an empty hanging-planter in the other,
as if haunted by a plant he wanted to grow,
or searching for something to read
that might help him forget,
indecisive when confronted  

by the wealth of other people's secondhand
furniture, their clothing and their bicycles
haphazardly arranged in their driveways.
Nothing he tried on seemed right,
or when it fit he delayed over choosing,
hesitant to bring anything home,

and more and more I find myself moving
in a similar way, passing impatiently through
crowded rooms, my future penciled in,
subject to revision. Unable to decide
if I need to talk, or if I should remain silent,
I try to adjust to my unexpected
survival after loss

by raking up the shells of sunflower seeds
scattered beneath my backyard feeder
once the snow has melted. Uncovering
a sprinkling of tender, yellow shoots
where a few seeds escaped
the blue jays this winter,

I am careful not to disturb them as I remove
their spent hulls from the grass, entrusting
my dreams to the tenuous life pushing
through mud. Turning back to my house,
I plan what to repair first as spring
progresses, a leaky window in need
of caulk, or the plaster

on my living room wall stained from seepage.
I intend to fill my tires and ride my ten-speed
the three miles into town where, catching the wind
off Lake Champlain, I will perhaps become
an opening through which fresh air
might blow, to my street, to my city,
and to my beleaguered land.   


Michael Jewell lives in Calais, Vermont and has had two chapbooks published by Wood Thrush Books. More recently his poetry has been accepted by Mizna, The Shanghai Literary Review, Negative Capability Press, and Roanoke Review.