Watching the river below from a high bluff

evening meditation, 02.14.17, 9/30

I’m thinking of summer again tonight, and a poem that came from the view I had on a silent weekend I took at White House Jesuit Retreat Center in St. Louis. (I’m already booked for their July retreat.) Weird, too, to look at that last stanza, written in May, and think of how it’s more urgent and applicable than ever.

Up this high on a day
with such a busy sky,
the massive flat-bottomed clouds
slowly scudding overhead,
occasionally spitting a raindrop.

The wide slow river below
rolls on steady like an assembly line,
the color of putty.
An earnest tugboat pushes
a quarter mile’s worth of barges
against the flow, churning up
the muddy water in its wake.

When the sun breaks through,
shadows of clouds take shape
on the water, come in and out of focus,
drifting slick over the surface,
sliding across like the brief appearances
of immense creatures that disappear
somewhere below the far shore.

When you’re in water,
it gives way, folds around you,
like a thing you can train to heel — 
but from up here, you can see
in the light and shadow
its substance,
a solidity you’d need to crash through
to get to its slippery underbelly.

Even the clouds themselves — 
those ephemeral continents
made up of nothing but vapor and dust — 
even they push back,
rattle the plane as it parts the edges:
a warning.

Everything resists occupation,
even you.
Nothing in nature is so soft
that it won’t break you
if you try to pass through unnoticed.