The river calls and I heed Her, my addiction. Once, a human load of clothes set to life-or-death. The spillway ravages my teenage body. I fight, but can’t win; sweet surrender. Then my hand bumps a rock. A hateful, unapologetic rock that put me into my predicament. One last fight to gain the murky light. I grab Gibraltar and propel myself to air, to heaven, to life. A sandbar oasis; August heat from a Midwestern sun. Her lust be damned.
* * *
The river summons and I gravitate to Her, my sun. Another time, a swan dive. Head first into quicksand. Stunned into stupor and paralyzed. I float downstream — a dead tree uprooted by tornadoes. Recovery, I’m not paraplegic. I’m sanctified, I’m whole, I’m vindicated.
* * *
The river begs and I barter, my sanctuary. A toppled tent, torn down by sweaty desire. Our voyeurs, a fisherman and Her. I can taste Her jealousy, Her fury, Her might. This time She’s indirect.
My beloved lab, Pardner, sucked into Her vortex.
Chelsea screams, “If he goes under, he’s dead.”
The water envelops me. His claws rake my shoulders and blood seeps from the gouges. I thrust him up into outstretched hands. Immense suction tickles the hairs on my legs.
Chelsea nurses my wounds. “You’re fucking insane.”
I reset the tent. A brown, furry lump lies in the sand; worn out. Does he know?
The tent collapses again. More sweat, more want, more flippancy. We lie under the vision of ten-trillion stars and She gurgles. A sultry siren crying out all night long. In the morning, dense fog. I pack up the Dasher, on edge. Her fishy eyes on every inch of me. Chelsea and Pardner cavort in Her wicked reach; She relents. We drive away without further incident. A mirror pond reflection in my rearview.
* * *
The river beckons and I run to Her, my abyss. Drunk strangers playing with danger. An infamous back current; their death between my fingers. She waits for Her meal, a crocodile in the shallows. Time to learn, to sort out transgressions, to let bygones be the truth. The early edition reads as day old news: Two Visitors Drown, One Local Teen Hospitalized.
* * *
The river commands and I obey Her, my true directive. A moonless night; revelers dance. Four old tires burn hot — Hades in July. On dare I take the fridge, rusted from age, for a canoe. It sinks into Her open maw, but not before I’m in too deep. A bootlace catches; turbulent water in turmoil. At the bottom, a loud thud. Then, whispering silence. Thousands of sounds muted; listening to intercourse through a wall. I scream, I thrash, I assail until my boot comes free. Surfacing onto a distant planet — salty, foreign, cool.
I crawl out of Her watery grip hundreds of yards downstream. Back in the throe I’m a god, a titan, the river lord. They chant my name; vulcanized rubber drifts skyward into blankness. The party rages and I fuck my first fuck, dab my first dot, fill up an unused tumbler, mark time; a legend begins.
* * *
The river cries out and I ignore Her, our separation. Houses blur, cars die and time recedes; an arrow to nevermore. At night in faraway lands She babbles. A brook bursting its banks. During the day a teasing allure, happy hour to an alcoholic. One day I’ll go back, return to sender, the melting ice of headwaters. How long have I been gone? Years, decades, but not a century that’s for sure — or is it? The call, the summons, the command nothing works. She cries out for me, a mournful moan. Wretches in heat, dinosaurs in bone, the whispering coughs of vagabonds.
I cheat. Swimming pools, lakes, seas and every ocean in between. My body’s escaped, but my mind’s shackled. It’s not my father that built me, nor the clergy, not my betrothed, not even every misstep along the way. The river, that damned North Platte river shaped me. She forged my soul, fired my loins, fed my hunger, and sustained me. In death’s embrace, life isn’t sweeter. It’s necessary. An ageless mandate, the ultimate order that causes chaos — a spark that ignited cosmic fire.
* * *
The river swoons and I come home, full submersion. Fishing pole, bait and a six-pack. On the bank under a searing summer sun, I’m scared and at ease. Things have changed, but it’s me…all me. I’m older, a shell emptied of all its turtle meat, a dead beaver bloating in the sand, the fleshless carp at the bottom of Her rapids. Still, She pumps me up, inflates my sails — the Hindenburg before Lakehurst. She flows downward and up, outward and inward; heaves to and fro. The windswept furrow blown back into a perfect line. Always in perfect alignment; Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi, Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates.
The shiny lure skips across Her bosom and sinks into Her caveat. I tug the rod and then reel, tug and reel, tug and reel. Wham, fish on. Surprised, I stumble and slide down Her bank. Up to my knees; a wet, sloppy hello-kiss. I yank back the rod, but it’s a big one. Waist deep — a quick tryst under the oaks. One more attempt to land the monster. My head goes under, the pole drifts away. She’s there in front of me, behind, beside, every point of the globe.
* * *
The river lulls and I swim through Her, my reprise. My arms are fins, my feet the lateral line. Gills, if I had gills, I’d swim upstream to spawn. I stroke and it propels me downward. I stroke again — harder, downward more. I’m not disoriented or confused. Another stroke, deeper into the depths and then another, another, another. I hit the sandy bottom, my fist jams into the gravel and silt. Go with it; the other hand jabs even deeper.
I hold myself to the bottom, I’m a kid again. Her rushing current above, peace and serenity below. Pretend I’m Aquaman, pretend I’m leviathan, pretend I’m Neptune. Pretend … pretend … pretend.