Canal Poem #3: Breath

Children play croquet or watch dads barbecue,
moms running trowels along sunflowers to deter

cheat grass, slotted fences on your west side
rippling my view. East-side, backyard fences rise

assuredly, aspen dip their slender limbs, fireweed
bristles its toothy stems.  I saunter along

your many curves, your well-placed warnings
of steep banks and erratic currents, marvel

that the ducks risk your rapids and emerge
unscathed, dunking their heads for greens.

No slopes for human steps, yet you journey
through our midst, carry the scent of memory,

the rivers we waded or fished or floated,
my rivers feeding the Columbia: the Cowlitz

bubbling forth its one-time status as smelt capital
of the world, the Toutle with its snare of mountain

trout in cold, clear runs, the Coweeman, where
a sun-baked skier could ride miles on rope.

Water tunnels through memory, brings
the unconscious to the surface, where it floats

like a glass ball on a moving tide, honing in
on our sense of place, silvered in recall, only

an occasional gray cloud dimming its forthright
clarity, rushing with the urgency of breath:

take care you do not stumble like a pebble
into the drink. Stay true to the path of gratitude

for all you have known, and joy will find you
like the least flower. Turn to face the wind.

Carol Barrett teaches poetry and healing courses for Union Institute & University and for Saybrook University. Her most recent book, Pansies, was a 2020 Oregon Book Awards finalist. A former NEA fellow in Poetry, she has published previously in *82 Review, JAMA, The Women’s Review of Books, Poetry International and elsewhere.

See more of her work in 9.2 and 9.2 and 8.2 and 6.2

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