Only the Water, and the Stars

When this boy [nineteen years old if a day] is drunk [and most dark nights he is always almost drunk], during another cabin party, he leaves the cabin and walks to the dock. Naked, he jumps into the water and sinks to the bottom of the river. As he descends, he releases air from his lungs. He watches the bubbles rise [like dreams] from his mouth up through the heavy weight that is water.

From beneath the river, [now even the air bubbles gone,] he realizes that no matter how many times he mouths this river’s name, it is always nameless. As if once she left [Where has she gone?], this boy must never utter the name of their river again.

This boy grew up on this river. He knows this river like he knows his [broken] heart or the way his wooden canoe paddle fits in his palm. But together, she and he made his river theirs. Their skinny dipping nights. Their quiet days in an old aluminum canoe. All the times they bathed away a hard day by swimming in this now nameless river.

But now she is gone [Where did she go?], so our boy sinks to the [murky] bottom of this river. He feels the silt of all that has broken down [all that has decayed]. A million leaves fallen from countless trees over thousands of years of autumn. Always autumn. Autumn in the bones.

Though he longs to linger beneath this warm blanket of river forever, our boy grows out of breath. A tightening in his lungs. A squeeze of his chest [though different than the squeeze of his chest when she left]. He has hidden below the water too long for his lungs [though never long enough]. He pushes off river bottom and ascends toward the moon and stars that wait above and beyond the river. Soon he shatters the calm surface of this black river. Our boy gulps in midnight summer air and wipes water from [not yet bloodshot] eyes.

This boy sees a world of beers [fallen and empty, maybe a metaphor for every moment since she left him] on the wobbly dock [where she and he once sat, holding hands as the evening sun warmed their shoulders].

And those other girls [naked—and soft in all the right spots] who have joined him for another night of drinking jump almost into his arms. Their giggles such a happy sound [though not to his ears]. But none of these girls can land where he needs them to. [How could any of them jump right into his heart?] And none of these falling down things [the beers or the girls] feels like home [though he prays they will, if only for this one night].

Only this river feels like home. This unnamed river. Deep and dark and languid tonight. And the stars above—thousands of light years away [another metaphor?]—they too feel like home. Especially when he sees the blurred sheen of their light from beneath the surface of this nameless river. So he gulps in oxygen and once again sinks beneath the surface. But never for long enough to find her again.

Author: Sean Prentiss