The river had a dream in it. She stood
on the bank opposite me. There was
a before and an after in the azure water
and to cross would leave a mark on my face
she would instantly recognize. Moon-gray
stones scabbed with moss, anemone-like
and alive. The ground felt more real than I was.
She seemed at approximate peace, white moths
trembled, stilled, then took flight again
at her shoulders. Aside from this, the nearer
mystery of the water, coursing
like it had been shoved, then eddying
in small pockets to emerge downstream.
She opened her mouth, Por que
estos suspiros, solamente quierenme.
My blood kept its passage tidy, its momentum
quick. Awake, I found a new constellation,
a huddle of light in mute kinship with the dark.
Review by Steve Hatfield
This poem’s imagery and tone are impressive. The first line introduces a dream-like, mysterious quality that builds from the unnamed “She” introduced in the first line to the trembling “white moths” in the poem’s middle, to the almost magical quality of the Spanish utterance near the end, culminating in the narrator having achieved a “mute kinship with the dark” at the poem’s end. Something real and consequential seems to have happened here which the tone and imagery suggest transpired in dream-like fashion, the way so many moments actually do.
But what has happened? A threshold, the river, has been crossed. The river has a “dream in it” that is the narrator’s dream of her future self who is waiting for her across the water. Should she cross? Doing so will “leave a mark” but the woman on the opposite bank seems “at approximate peace” so why not jump? Besides, isn’t this what one is supposed to do? The river—the timeless symbol of life itself—is moving “like it had been shoved” (peer pressure, anyone?) (what a great image of a river, by the way), so what choice, really, does the narrator have? She crosses. Afterward, she is awake, in possession of a “new constellation, / a huddle of light”, which suggests the crossing was worth the effort, even though she remains, as we all remain, linked with the dark.
But is this poem about threshold crossing in general, or is it about crossing a particular threshold? I lean toward the latter based on the sentiment that appears in Spanish at the poem’s crisis moment, when the narrator’s future self opens her mouth and words come out having something to do with sighing only for love. Has the narrator given herself to love or has she given herself for the first time to love-making? Or both? I can’t decide, which frustrates me. If the narrator has merely allowed herself to fall in love, why the “mark on my face” for doing so? And where is her beloved? So I have to conclude the woman on the opposite bank is the narrator, a virgin no longer. Okay, but there is so little sexuality in the poem I’m not confident in this reading, either—where, I still wonder, is the lover, or thief, or whoever it was who brought her to the river’s edge in the first place? The poem is so dream-like in its rendering one could even argue that nothing happens to the narrator at all—she only dreams it. I don’t like that reading, but it could be done.
Threshold crossing is life, so thematically this poem is spot on, and technically, there is much to admire here. (Who would not like to claim “stones scabbed with moss” as his own?) Maybe the poem could use a bit less poeticizing? What I mean is, truth is truth for everyone the world over and my first sexual experience had a stain in it. So more stains?