Not Fifteen Days
by Laura Schulkind
We round another bend in the river,
what will be one of our last,
hurtle through the white, then
drop into sudden stillness—
a glassy stretch the color of sagebrush—
the only sounds the unrushed dip of the oars and
the canyon wrens calling to their mates.
We take in our last views of this soaring castle
of Muav and Dolomite and Redwall as
we near Lake Mead,
and in the approach, I cannot help
but start to brace for impact—
the speed of cars, the press of work.
I imagine arriving home,
you waiting there,
perhaps giving the geraniums a final watering.
Me smelling of silt and Mormon’s Tea,
and desert rain and sweat. Hair wild and stiff.
Nails ragged. Lips cracked.
Imagine your reaction—a raised eyebrow
as you ask, how long were you on that river?
And I consider how I might answer such a question,
wondering if, like dog years, there
might be river years.
Realize, I could only answer with a question:
By what measure?
The time it takes to bend to a river?
To fall into its rhythm of pool and drop—
leaning into the rapids and
melting into the calm that follows?
Or, the time it takes to bear witness to a two-billion-year-old
hot, steamy slow dance between rock and water?
To climb up layers of limestone, granite, shale and schist—
each step ten thousand years?
The time it takes to learn to see,
to read the ancient story in a vein of granite?
The time it takes to give and accept innumerable kindnesses,
shed our defenses and modesties?
The time it takes for new words to feel familiar in your mouth—
laterals, high-siding, river holes (who knew rivers had holes)?
The time it takes to feel you have shed your skin
and grown a new one?
Or measured instead by Earth’s timeline—
here for a fleeting moment, a sigh on a wind already gone.
Whatever the measure, I realize this:
It is not “fifteen days”.
That answer would clearly be wrong.
My time on the river far longer, and
far shorter than that.
PHOTO: Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Archana Bhartia.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was one of several that I wrote during a two-week period while traveling by dory from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead on the Colorado River (about 280 miles) in May 2019.
PHOTO: The author with her husband Dan Perlstein on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon (May 2019).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Schulkind, an attorney by day, is entrusted with others’ stories. Through poetry she tells her own. She has two chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, Lost in Tall Grass (2014) and The Long Arc of Grief (2019). Her work also appears in numerous journals, including Caveat Lector, Dallas Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The MacGuffin, Mudlark, Reed Magazine, and Valparaiso Review. Her published work and reviews can also be found on her website, lauraschulkind.com, along with musings on why “lawyer-poet” isn’t an oxymoron.