FIVE POEMS by Amorak Huey
The 1883 logjam on Michigan’s Grand River
was one of the biggest in the history of logging.
Listen: one hundred fifty million feet of logs: skew and splinter thirty feet high for seven river-miles. Sky of only lightning, mouth of only teeth, all bite and churn, thrust and spear, the kind of mess made by men who have men to clean up their messes. It rains. Thirty-seven million tons of white pine clears its throat. Water rises. The bridges will go soon. Listen closely: underneath the knock and clatter, the trees still sing. The song is a violence.
LIKE GREAT HARPS ON WHICH THE WIND MAKES MUSIC
—Henry David Thoreau, on the Eastern White Pine
Dark ghosts, tall as moonlight.
Shadows without shadows.
Listen. This wind will not last.
Such music will never play again.
The smallness of a man
who enters a forest to destroy a forest;
who believes that to name a tree
is to claim its strength as his own—
across the lake, a city burns.
O-WASH-TA-NONG, MEANING FAR-AWAY-WATER
Across Happy Hollow Road, across Gillespie’s pasture, past barbwire and tree line, the river of my childhood still twists and eddies south toward the gulf, cold as memory’s fist, even on the sunniest day, even decades later as I cross a new river each day, the same river, the only river, the river I’ve invented, shaped and poured to quench my thirst to be loved, a filled trench, a scar left 11,000 years ago as the great glaciers crawled north, meltwater left to find its own way to the lake. The story of a river in America is always a story of destruction.
“A HUNDRED DOLLARS TO AN OLD HAT SHE HOLDS”
—Local paper, predicting an iron railroad bridge
would withstand the logjam; the bridge was swept
away while the ink was still wet.
What if I’ve learned the wrong lesson from every story?
What if a flood, after all, is only a flood, cleansing nothing?
What if our sins cannot be washed away so easily,
if all our stumbling will leave us lost, still?
Somewhere I learned to love the kind of man I am not.
Knuckle-scar. Thick forearms. Beer-bottle-dark eyes
and a sense of duty. The strength to hold a tugboat steady in rushing water
while other men sledgehammer pilings into place, an obstacle
to catch what comes our way, it’s a matter of time—
all that’s upstream breaks free.
THE ENGINEER WHO FIXED THE LOGJAM RECEIVES A GOLD WATCH FOR HIS TROUBLE
I know so much about how water moves
it leaves me dizzy. I know time and rivers
are tools the rich use to make fools
of the rest of us; no limit to the weight a man
can heave onto the backs of other men.
What else to do but decide to survive?
Water has no memory, is only memory,
is the world’s purest form of desire,
the relentless drive to return home
whatever the cost. It’s all any of us want,
to have a smoke and finish the job,
carry our weary bodies to a hearth
somewhere, a resting place
and the warmth of someone who loves us.
If water cannot go through, it goes around.