First Dream of the River

by Jeanie Thompson

There is a river in Alabama I remember—
        on these rocks, my feet found balance,
with her hand steadying me to that current,
        the cold river’s vast muscle
took me this way and that. Sun on my face
        and in my hair, lifted the mud’s
ancient odor to my face, said move with me.

I cannot return there now. In the garden of my home place
        I had groped without self, without Helen, only need
and want, an unformed thing. When she dragged me to
        the pump and poured w-a-t-e-r into my impatient hand,
my mind cracked open like a bird’s egg. This shattering
        I try to tell—but you can never know. There was a pull
of self diving into that language current
        I couldn’t know then. Still, my feet steadied
on bare rock where others had stood,
        cast their eyes to the quickening sky,
knew the pull of a river’s rich life. How would it be possible
        to return there, the river whispering in my palm
the syllables over and over, you are Helen, of this Earth,
        a shaken fragrance lives in your dream of home.