Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, January 19, 2009

Crossing the Creek












Unfortunately, one's dreams are about as interesting to other people as tales of one's socks. Or maybe "fortunately" is more apt. If we were all fascinated by one another's dreams, we might not get much work done.

Anyway, I'll keep this short: After my father died in '97, I kept dreaming that he was in the middle of a creek, wading upstream, toward me, or at least a P.O.V. that represented me. He and the creek always looked the same. He wasn't in distress, but he was laboring, and of course there's almost no occasion for anyone to wade directly upstream into the force of the water. Dreams are fiction. He had jeans and the usual workshirt on--but not the hat he always wore outdoors. (His was a hat, not a cap, generation.) In some versions of the short dream, he'd ask, calmly for assistance. In some he'd say someting like "It's okay. You go ahead." It some he said nothing. I rather liked the subtly of the dream. Significant (to me; boring to others) but subtle.

Almost simultaneously, I was musing casually about that dream and also wanting to engage in some poetic aerobics and write a poem in formal verse, so I decided to do both at once. Of course, sacred texts, vast crowds of poets, and so on, have been there before me with the basic "crossing" image, including Tennyson with "Crossing the Bar," so I viewed the poem as an exercise, but not necessarily as one in orginiality.

Crossing the Creek

They wait for me across the creek.
They look like shadows from this side.
One day I'll wade across to seek
The insubstantial. Petrified

With cold and fear, I'll stand, midstream,
And feel what's real: round, slippery stones,
The force of water in a seam
Of that ravine. My skin and bones

Will read the creek a final time,
Will feel its push and temperature.
I'll stand unsteadily, a mime
Without an audience and most unsure

About the balance of the act.
But then I'll move, make it across.
The creek will be the final fact--
Its gravel, boulders, trout, and moss.

The far side shall be near. I'll fall
Into the life of death. Will they assist,
Who've gone before, and bear the pall
When I fade into mottled mist?

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom
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