Between the ridges mirrored on water,
in the cold aspect of an October dawn
with the quick wind in our faces,
my great uncle and I watch the kingfishers
lifting off the river we have come to know
in the silent places of our hearts.
An eagle scans us as we pass,
sentinel of time and the weak tide
pulled by the scratch of moon still
in the coming sky, and we count,
in the brief moment that seems
to end even while it begins,
the last stars fading above us.
Behind us our waves settle
into the still glass where trees twin themselves
in reflection, as I am twinned
by this man at the helm,
old hands red with the morning cold.
An older version of me.
I don’t yet have my scar
from the hook
in the web of thumb and forefinger,
don’t yet have the memory
of his calm voice
soothing the barb out. I have not yet seen
him kneel at the wheel when,
on our return, his heart fluttered and skipped
and beat at his chest like the waves
lapping at the sides of the boat.
That wind that morning whipped
our words away,
too cold to do anything but measure
the breaths we could see before us,
and I do not understand the how or the why,
but watching him at the wheel I knew
I would not see him again. This would be the
last morning he piloted the Arkansas before first light
while mist rose from the river.
This would be the last cold dawn we fished
under the slivers of stars and shivered in the wind
as the leaves on the river’s bank
fell from the trees. And I only
write to tell you that as he eased
back the throttle and wiped the tears the cold
morning wind had torn from his eyes,
that he knew it too.