A Canoe Lacuna

The Upper Iowa River is cold
in early October, but autumn ways
attract rather than deter young campers
barely getting past summer this morning.
The night before – while old constellations
slowly, quietly turned above our Earth,
above invisibly migrating geese –
dreams of departure arose in our sleep.
With dew on our faces and hot cocoa
warming our senses, we gladly enter,
sliding our canoes into the river.
Starting out, we’re talkative, questioning
signs written by rocks in rippling water.
Which ripples indicate smooth transitions?
Which indicate that we should go around?
It’s easy to get stuck in shallow streams.
Adventurers do well to remember.

But soon the sights swallow up our sounds,
and silence prevails as we cease to speak –
for we see the hues of autumn displayed
on the riverbank tilted towards us
with yellow maples hanging overhead
releasing leaves even one of which holds
our attention as it slowly drifts down
finally floating on the same river
which urges us to follow the same way,
led downstream by leaf after yellow leaf.

Sweatshirts off by noon, we find a sandbar
to warm our bare, soaked feet and to eat lunch.
Styrofoam coolers, plastic containers
litter the beach casting shadows over
clumps of sedge.  Settled among them we spy
a dragonfly with broken wings, bloated
with age and dying – a would-be dragon! –
gleaming with bright sea-green, but disheartened
with crippling spasms, eyes compound yet blind.
We carefully unwrap our sandwiches,
and slowly bite down as we bravely gaze.

After lunch, downriver, trees are replaced
by rising walls of stone – unlivable
save by cliff swallows whose nests of dried mud,
like wheel-thrown pottery, hang on the walls.
The swallows are not home now having flown
south on sky-rivers to surviving woods.
The great blue heron and the kingfisher
still fear our capacity to intrude,
but it’s the outsiders who kill their trees.

No, in conjunction we still dream their dreams.
We dream of a huge bluff ablaze with fall –
crimson gold spectrums mixed with evergreens
overseen by those wise, dusky-red oaks.
Though paddling alongside we see lofty
limestone cliffs, better is the source of all:
Malanaphy Springs.
We will climb her rocks,
clinging like the moss and fiddlehead ferns,
standing uprightly and inwardly turned.

Lee Sterling Enslow is a founding member of Third Stanza, a society of Ames area poets.  He has worked as a custodian at Iowa State University for 24 years.  His forthcoming book, Driftrock: Poems for Iowa, explores the rivers and wilder areas of Iowa’s parks and wildlife refuges.  This particular poem, “A Canoe Lacuna”, was written in syllabic-count blank verse. Lee will appear in a Third Stanza Reading as part of 11 Days of Global Unity at Café Diem Monday, September 13 at 6:00pm.

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