Her sinewed arms bend oars downstream,
Her belly taut against the swirling eddies
And the shifting shoals of sand and silt.
Soft plash of water against the hull,
As, on the lift of wind and loft of wave,
Her legs push and her breasts swell
To the slow rotating stroke on stroke
That guides her craft past rocks and reeds
Where bighorns graze and beavers slap the pool.
Her hair, rayed out, enfolds the sun.
Her downed thighs surge and shift
To the tempo of the current’s heart,
And her shoulders roll, her shoulders roll
The long blue oars through shafts of sun,
Through all these canyons carved from time.
Unknowing, and yet knowing, I boarded her silver boat,
Armed with maps and memoirs, with the latest equipment;
With the whole weight of the world compressed into a sack…
And we cast off when the sun slid above the canyon’s rim.
All day we rolled past walls of slate, the hawk our only witness,
Past pages of the Book of Earth no living soul could hope to read.
I lay upon the cushioned deck, soothed by the lull and surge of rapids,
And watched her eyes become the stream, as time was silenced by her touch.
Her face, at first quite modern, changed; Diana, mistress of the moon,
Emerged to meet my gaze. The air grew still. A silken shawl
Seemed draped upon the river’s skin. The sun breathed in and paused.
It was then her voice, a whisper across a glacier, moved within my mind,
And in that place, removed from time, this timeless tale she told…
What the River Guide said:
“Again we are as once we were
Together on the plains of Troy,
Where poets thought me powerful
And heroes were my evenings’ toys.
“We knew each other long ago,
Amid the smoke and heat of war,
And in far mountains, crowned with snow,
We’ve met, embraced, and passed before.
We were not meant to mate for life,
But are companions for all time.
To love for but one night each life,
The sentence for our crime;
“Which was to challenge heaven,
That man and gods might love.
But now we meet on rivers,
Bereft of home above.
“For me, there is no hope of heaven.
For you, no death in which to rest.
Our one reprieve is this one night,
In this one life, when we caress.
“Lay back, my love, be ruled by me.
I’ll bear us safely to the shore.
And by the river, this night we’ll love.
This night and then a thousand more.
“One night each life, for a thousand lives,
Until the dawn we’ll dance.
But with the falling of the moon,
We both will waken into trance.
“Unknowing then, we’ll drift away,
The memory fading with the years,
Until our deaths transfigure us,
And in the next life we appear.
“Our first few lives I saw as deaths,
And thought it cruel that but one night
In each life was all that I could hold
Before you were taken from my sight.
“But now that a thousand lives we’ve lived
And loved for that one night,
I know the gift the old gods gave —
To fold all life into one night.
“I’ll take you to the shore, my love,
Amid the tamarisk and musk,
And this one night of love we’ll live
Until the eons turn to dust.”
The wind had faded, the light had changed,
Her face was flesh once more.
I stirred and shook myself awake
As the river bore us into shore.
Again she was the River Guide,
Practical, stern, and lean.
“Did I sleep?” I asked. “Perhaps,“she said,
“Perhaps this is the dream.”
— Big Sur, April 2005