Rivers

I dreamt you and I were diving into the Willamette. We’d walked the path from Marylhurst down to the rocks, wallowing in the rare silence of easy company. It was night and our bare arms prickled in the cool air, starlight sticking to them like June bugs. We swam to the bottom of the river and picked up stones, surfacing with shallow gasps of laughter. We lined them on the side of the river and went back for more. The stones were heavy and our arms grew tired. Our movement became more and more awkward, our laughter abbreviated.

As I surfaced with a particularly heavy turquoise stone, I saw David Bowie coming out of the trees. He asked what we were doing. We told him we were trying to deepen the river. He said that he approved of the general idea, but that there are many ways to deepen things. He reached up and snapped his fingers with a dramatic flourish of his wrist. All the stars turned to disco balls in the sky. They twirled and glittered. Music came from the woods. We began to do the slow chicken dance with Bowie, but yours was super sexual and you were worried the trees would get turned on. They did, and they started to dance with us, shaking their leaves and getting low, low, low, low, low. This seemed to go on for hours. Then Bowie pulled a pipe from his pants and began playing. At first I thought no one could stand the wildness of it, wilder than despair. The disco lights in the sky became white rats and crawled down the horizon, following him into the woods. He disappeared and the music tapered off and the woods became still. Everything was dark and quiet and full to bursting with the feeling of aliveness, of glorious intent. You reached up and took hold of the sky, which, without stars / disco balls / white rats, simply turned out to be the softest blanket. You wrapped it around us and we held each other and had a sword fight with our noses. It occurred to me that I had been smiling for a long time. The muscles in my face were tired, but the rest of me felt energized. You kissed me the way you do, with your hand holding my face, as if it’s something precious you would not want to drop, and I felt a river inside of me deepen.

* ​*​ *

Upon waking, I examine another blanket, the one in which I’ve been cocooned for the past few months. It is made of disappointment and the texture is in constant flux. Collapsing into bed at night is a kind of ritual, and I admit that I’ve come to find comfort in the familiarity of not holding anything but the soft plush of sadness against my skin. It is the one thing I can count on at the end of the day, a guarantee in a life braided with uncertainties. This blanket is tattered with anger from times I tried to tear through it, and the edges are charred from nights I tried to burn it in the fireplace, along with many other vestiges of my past. It has holes from all the times the universe has poked through it like a younger brother desperate for attention. It is a dirty blanket. It is heavy. But it is a weight without which I feel naked. I have learned how to wear it everywhere I go. I have learned to let light shine through the holes. I have learned to be okay with my broken, messy, yearning self, to not hide it away the second curious eyes draw near.

Today I feel adventurous. Today I do not need a cocoon. I want to stretch out my arms and feel the sun stroking my skin. I want to roll around in pine needles and wet grass. I want to smell the budding rhododendrons and tuna trees, the sickly sweet that draws fat honey bees. I want to wrestle with my old friend, wind. Immersed in these primordial loves, I want to be born again.

But when I go to pull off my sadness-blanket, my armor, I realize that it is no longer something I can separate from my skin. The holes have become my holes. The charred edges my charred edges. I am a dirty girl. I am heavy.

* ​*​ *

The trees were wrapped with yellow ribbons. We prowled, snipping ribbons, pulling them down one by one and stuffing them in our bags, uncertain of what we might unleash, but more than willing to find out.

We sat on the rocks by the river, watched the ripples in the water spread out and out until new ones formed to take their place. We talked about poetry. Pain. Loss. Love. We talked about poop. About all the ways in which we were tired of masks. We laughed and laughed. We grew serious. The moods rippled through us. There was no need to fight feelings. Being with you is a lot like being alone, minus the loneliness. Being with you is a lot like floating.

Beneath our feet, dark shapes swam through the water. Baby beavers chirped, hiccuped, sighed. They could have been anything. They could have been signs.

* ​*​ *

We sit on the couch and stare into the fireplace, which is littered with the blackened remains of flowers I burned, along with so many of the hopes I carried west. I tell you about some of them: the relationships that buckled, my best friend moving back to the other side of the country, the grief-monsters that still babble beneath my bed, wearing masks of family members with whom I haven’t spoken in years. I tell you about how it still hurts. You don’t try to talk me out of hurting. The sadness blanket is my skin. You touch it with your fingers, and something like light seeps in. You wrap the sky around us, and we smile, though it takes many minutes to realize we are happy, and that being happy doesn’t stop us from being sad, because life is not black or white, it is both black and white, both shadows and light.

Do you remember standing above the tiny waterfall on that first day, feet steady in the current, eyes making love to the dappled rocks, the slender trees, each other? I told you about Joyce, and the moment of epiphany in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, how it wasn’t the meaning of the words but the music of them that called to him. I told you there is nothing more poetic than the word “dappled”, which, no matter how much it is used, never grows cliched. It is where light and shadows play. The words tattooed across my wrists remind me that as long as I am alive, I will always contradict myself. I do not want to be one thing. To be one thing is to be finished. I am not finished. Neither are you. Inside each of us is not shadow and light, but something tremendous to which we attribute these tiny words. I want to hold all of it in the palms of my hands. I want to sit with you inside the mystery of dreaming. Your smile is so close to mine. I feel a river between us deepen.

 

Darla Mottram

About Darla Mottram

Darla Mottram is a recent graduate of Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She will pursue an MFA in poetry at Portland State University beginning fall 2015. Her work has been featured in NAILED Magazine and Voicecatcher, among others. She a co-founder of the social art project Put-Pockets (put-pockets.tumblr.com), a blog that documents creative ways of sharing poetry with the world.
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