You don’t know how the aluminum pole will feel on a body that’s been
underwater for three days, and you don’t quite trust that you can tell the difference
between flesh and wood this evening as you poke and probe from a raft platform in a
rapid paddlers call Jawbone. All you know is the color of the water matches its sound and
there is a wolf spider on every rock you use for balance and there are men on the bank,
kin to the boy, with pistols and machetes and they claim to have killed fourteen snakes.
You don’t know that in seven days the boy will surface in an eddy where a raft trip—
yours—has pulled over to eat lunch. And you have no idea that your friend three years
from now with a grappling hook and come-along will unwedge a college student from the
slot below Left Crack, don’t know he’ll have to wait a week for the river to drop, that
even then with the force of the water, the body will only come in pieces, and that when
you ask him about it—it’s amazing what we remember—he’ll say the watch on the left
wrist was still ticking. And of course you don’t know that in five years, in the same year
and month that a doctor will cut your first born from your wife’s belly, a man will lose his
daughter in Raven Chute, that after weeks she won’t surface, and that he’ll attempt to
dynamite the river, try to break its jaw so he can recover her body, so he can bury her
proper. This evening with the aluminum pole growing colder in your hands and the men
on the bank starting fires, some coiling rope, you don’t know what you know, what
you’re feeling, don’t know that even if this man five years from now finds his daughter,
some part of him will have to leave her there and walk into the water below Raven Chute,
just downstream where it’s almost calm, walk in for as long as is needed—maybe a
whole life—walk in every day, and bathe.
Chattooga is from Odd Botany, (Silverfish Review Press 2002).