Siletz River, 1948
My dad thinks the river is his, or he is the river’s.
He ferries us upstream on the tide most weekends after the war,
his knee on the tiller, that half-moon sailing from the quick of his thumb
as he slips his tackle into the current.
He lifts one finger to his lips to say silence in the boat,
and the bank slips by, an open window to another life—
muskrat, voles, the dark mouths of their burrows.
Alders and willows dip their leaves into the stream.
Around a bend, a startle of wings, the cries of the kingfisher bird.
The morning’s mist rises over the river’s silver face
and I take it in, filling my lungs with the sounds the river breathes.
The river opens a space for us as we go,
the vee behind the boat fanning to show where we’ve been.
My dad motions me to the bow to watch for snags and deadheads.
Teaches me to flag with my arms,
and I become first boat hand,
my mother keeping watch over my brother playing with his toys.
At the riffles I remove my shoes and pull the boat across the gravel bar
so we can reach his favorite holes upstream.
Tackle, rod, reel, line, lure. Coho, cutthroat, blueback.
The river becomes my life’s lexicon.
Gull, heron, jay. The thrash of spawn.
Riffle, sandbar, salmonberry. Minnows in the shallows.
Meander. Loop, bend, bank, the trill of a creek.
This is what my dad will give me.
Until I wrote these words, I didn’t know it.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 1.
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