by Diane Mehta
Grooving a valley with soft-scissoring fingers,
a blind river surveys the land for a kinder ocean.
It carries the wishes of fishermen on ridges
waiting for carp to leap into their arms like a woman
and the laughter of lean sunbathers
unbothered by death that will come sooner
than they expected. Like our molecules
it aches to get to the center of earth.
It is looking for an ocean
to bury its sounds.
Stories of trilobites and volcanic heat,
birth-engine for endless microscopic species.
It moves like blood cells into impressionable soil,
tumbles over rocks,
religion truer than any.
It flows by churches,
over graveyards where we buried
star generals and tailors with musical fingers
and women who bore children
before life happened to them.
The blind river carries on its back
10-volume histories of cities that rose around them,
Tiber, Seine, Nile, Danube, Yamuna.
The river curves around new mosques
and colorful Buddhist temples with tiny flags fluttering
while Hindu deities talk about eternity.
Its mouth is our mouth, the way we shape vowels on our tongues—
It turns by a synagogue where a war-jagged rabbi
bent over his books
puzzles out what it means.
He doesn’t believe in every testament.
My alphabet is weeping, he sobs.
Letters all gloss and no grace.
These words don’t hold their shape.
He climbs into the waves of fresh-cut corpses
the blind river grinds to gravel,
until, many summers later,
sandbars fashion themselves into islands.
The river, sullen and implacable, is a starfish with one leg left.
It twists to a rhythm it alone hears, seeking gravity,
folk tunes in its ears and choral ghosts singing.
It plots below frozen surfaces, mineral-rich with ideas
for April, when torrential melts remind us
to everything its season.
America, colder than our hearts,
will tear us apart.
Who is courageous and what can we give up?
Small boats float on the blind river with the dead
who bicker about the price of milk and celestial news—
old stars masquerading as alive,
new stars arriving
with lightbox valises in their 200-year approach.
By then, three wars will have torn apart six countries,
a half-million men will follow their fathers into the ground.
Forests will grow blue from stem cells hidden in laboratories,
bluebells and bluebirds on their strange blossoming.
Letters to editors will be written by algorithms.
There was always too much America.
But rivers still flow in rust-belt mornings,
in algorithms propaganda can’t decipher
because they are singing the sermons that unite them.
An old man, a philosopher I knew, hammers the floor with his feet,
speaking in tongues for fear of greater tragedies.
But we have long ties to sunlight that cannot be legislated,
equations that always solve for equality that is true.
The variable is us.
Intellectuals pedal bicycles fast into the wind.
There will be some yellow streamers at the end
or just a clearing where people have gathered
to dig up the wise invisible river
beneath land we have riven.
from Forest with CastanetsFind more by Diane Mehta at the library
Copyright © 2018 Diane Mehta
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.