What a Laugh

What a laugh
It was (in retrospect, of course)
To be so utterly lost
In the deep dark twilight
As to head straight for
The Mississippi
Saved at the last possible moment
By luck or
Divine intervention,
Enough at least to send
Pedal to metal,
Landing us
Wobbling, safe and
Breathless, smack
Atop the levee.

So this is the levee!
Exotic, foreign word,
Much like “Mississippi.”
Here’s some fun:
Try on “Mississippi”:
Taste it, hear how
It means . . .
Some river, some state, but . . .
Oh, yes! A game for
Jumping rope:

And yet.
There are these places,
These rivers, valleys,
Songs, these
With names like
Confections and
The names themselves
Call out sometimes:

Oh, Shenandoah
I’m bound to leave you
Away, you rolling river
Oh, Shenandoah. . .

Did you hear that!?

There’s a kind of
Memory simmering
Low and deep from
Who knows where?
You go along
And suddenly
There it is:
A name, a word,
A sound you’ve
Heard but
Never really owned.
Taste it, feel its pull.
Water calls the divining rod
I am you!

I can hear the
Names sometimes,
Faint, faraway, a
Half-remembered lullaby

From this valley they say
You are going
We will miss your bright eyes
And sweet smile . . .

“We hate America”
I have been told
(And more than once)
“We love Americans but
We hate America”!
I understand,
I do, would
Swap passports,
Divorce this
Cad of a nation
Hock my square-cut
Citizenship, make no
Claims of any kind.
I would, and gladly
But for what
Claims me:

The river is deep and
The river is wide
Milk and honey on the other side. . .

There! Did you hear that?

I feel sorry for people
Who have never seen
An ocean; I can
Barely comprehend
Not knowing what a
True horizon looks like:
I’ve seen the
Edge of forever.
I know great rolling
Sand dunes,
Cliffs and redwood forests
Where ferns glow
Blue in the shade
While the perfume of
Pine needles
Crunches smoky and
Green underfoot.
I’ve seen moonscape
Deserts, sheer granite,
Incomprehensible valleys
Where two doves,
Once parted, must
Surely meet again.
Have stood on sacred ground
Before they roped it off,
Really seen a snake charmer,
Heard the muezzin’s call,
Bombs falling in the distance,
My own breath under water,
Played kick-the-can
In the middle of a
Wide quiet street
Crossed great bridges
On my own two feet,
Been to the top of the mountain,
The middle of nowhere,
And the depths of my own
Inconsolable loneliness.

Yet there I was,
Mapless in the
Deep dark twilight,
Coasting between
Coast and coast,
A city mouse who
Couldn’t tell a rut
From a riverbank—
I was the one who
Drove slam across the levee
Headed straight for the Mississippi
Saved at the last possible moment
By luck or divine intervention
Shaken, wide awake,
Struck dumb by the sight of
A memory.

© Andrea Wolper 1998

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