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The Water Way

Jo Thompson

Children of the elements, we learned fire,
How it was cornered and drawn out;
And water, the balance, the dangers.
We took to the river always, stole boats,
left everything on the bank, kicked off
into the current that gulped flags and keys,
And slowly earned our right to call it home.

We got heavier. It took years, but the water has its rules;
Fight the flood, grip the sides. We were still
Home, building bonfires to keep the shadows back,
Flinging spirits to the flames and down our throats.
We gasped for clean air, bellies full of charring coals,
a slip of smoke through smiling lips.
The cigarettes were a trick. We hid our burning from the adults.

We danced in the fire’s light beside the shrinking woodpile
But the dark sipped us no matter, pulled us from the glow.
Friends rolled together beneath apple trees
And things were lost, not to each other,
But to the night, which swallows like black water.

This is how our boats pitched and tacked.
As the sun came to warm our cold fingers
We found ourselves gritty with stardust,
Overcooked, and all of us at the same time, looked
Over the bow to see the rapids coming
And inhaled, knowing
That we could bail,
Jump ship and spare our shaking skins
The clutches of the water, the bruises of the fall.
We clung to the sides regardless,
Being tutored in the river’s way.
We were all, as always, ready
To sail and sink together.

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