Answering the River God

I will speak plainly.

Your heart is a reservoir, swollen and ugly. You aim your brow carelessly, rashly, wastefully.
Your warm hands are tender knots chopping at the distance between us. Your eyes and lips blaze all too righteously. The nape of your neck quivers with the firmness of your argument. It's ridiculous.

You're far more dangerous when you don't raise your voice, you know. It's strange, but that's your temper, cold, understated, irreversible. Your voice, with its ragged, curt serrations, tersely rushes under your breath, faster than either of us can think. And then you say

In those moments, I tell myself that I can see through the gap between your shoulderblades. Floating there in your bottomless reservoir, mingling with the bitter and the sweet, I tell myself that the face of my reflection is just a face, the image as far from the truth of me as the setting sun is distant from its rippled, shining, watery rain.

I tell myself to lave my hands in your water.
Slowly, slowly,
the biting chill eases, reconsidering, taking its sweet time, warming up to the idea of warmth.

And then, achingly slowly, my cold hands warm in your running cold water slowly warming, your reluctantly kindled smile slowly unfolding.

I know enough to know that this solves nothing, settles nothing, changes only your mood and mine. There is no enough.

There is only your bottomless reservoir, your warm hands, and the beautiful ruin of the setting sun running through my fingers.



Imaginary Friends

When I was little, I had not one, nor even a handful of imaginary friends. I had a world of them. I would walk down a street certain in my conviction that a crowd of beings accompanied me, swimming the air at my shoulder, or flying overhead, or galloping behind me. Centaurs, eagle-owls, that sort of thing. Some had names.

Some were so specific as to have entire identities, whole and complete--exiled or orphaned royal heirs disguised in the imaginary-friend realm to evade murderous step-parents. Explorers and warrior-monks sojourning in my company, hoping to convince me to accompany them on their latest impending expeditions. Last survivors of their tribes, nations, or species, painstakingly entrusting their culture's half-lost secrets to me before they died.

Some were so vague as to be merely the edges of shadows caught in the corner of the eye; you couldn't look at them, you couldn't see them directly, but they made their presence felt.

They trusted me with the secret of their collective existence. I trusted them for protection, foresight, advice. It was a neat arrangement.

Many, or perhaps even most of them survive in my books. They are now, as they always have been, at once both a venerable and a deeply disreputable population of talkative, jealous, plaintive, unapproachable, effusive and altogether astonishingly wise souls. My relationship with them has also matured; some can speak more insistently to me know, and others have commensurately lost their influence (those latter sulk in the corners, wailing from time to time, yet still, as often as not, their view will prevail just as before).

But I miss the innocent certainty I used to have about them. When I walk down the street, their brilliant, bristling company is now no more than a metaphor. I miss the truthfulness of their existence, something I earnestly believed in, and earnestly still want to believe in today. I miss their company a lot.