View from
Poetry

The River Walk

“They bring us here, to a place/Elsewhere, where there is no motion”

1

We enter at a loose, lichened gate—

Wet to touch—that pushes open 

Over a shallow pool of rainwater, giving

Out onto a thin, muddy trail 

Trod falteringly through lanky grass.

Many others must enter here,

But on our walk, we’re on our own.

 

Behind, the rusted metal latch swings

To uncertain closure on the houses—  

Half-curtained, fenced, rough-gardened—

Their firewood stacked under a carport 

Here, an old tarpaulin there. 

This place gets fiercely cold, and

Weatherboard holds small warmth.

 

Our car rests on an angle—locked,

I check—under the low-hung boughs

Of a scruffy pine, where the verge tips

Into thick grass, then tangled growth 

To where the river must be: there—seen 

Now—between trees, willows, brush—

Shining, placid, cloud-grey, green, black.

 

2

This is our own earth, water, path ahead, 

And there is nothing more, for now, 

Than this wavering track and what we 

Make of it ourselves—no others among 

Those that come this way will take 

Our route exactly—we look to what’s

Coming, and go where impulse takes us.   

 

We walk in a shifting consciousness 

of each other, in awareness of the trees, 

Their leaves—new, pale green overhead— 

Broken, lifeless underfoot—hearing—

Listening or without listening—flickers 

In the thin and thickening canopies 

Responding to movements in the air.

 

So do we come and go, in momentary 

Response to a word, to the disclosure,  

Again, of the reflective water, the sunlight 

Patterning the earth, the care we give

Roots, hollows, guttering the track, and 

We do not choose to be separate, nor to  

Know ourselves and this combined.

 

And you too, walking by me, are part 

Of this mystery of creation—separate, 

Whole—yet conceived in this, 

The external, and in your own 

And my realities, as I am in yours, and 

Thus we, separately and together, 

Are here and not here, on foot and not. 

 

3 

Ahead, our approach is to the vacancy

Of mown grass, a metal climbing frame, 

A slide, picnic table—all unpeopled 

Now—and it is an approach to childhood: 

Ours, and the childhood we share 

With all who run to these—for they 

Must be involved in us, as you in me. 

 

We are not alone—cannot be—here

Or anywhere: invisible children 

Grasp these bars, hang, make of them

Frames of reference for mind, hands

And feet—join arms, legs, heads, 

In air, in swirling grass and clouds,

Shout in the thrills of flight, of unison.

 

We know these feelings, although 

My leap up is awkward, inadequate,

Mere entertainment in complicity

With you. As fast as tried, I let go

My feeble hold and drop—middle-aged,

Heavy-footed—to the ground.

Those days are past. Or can they be?      

 

Is it not, rather, that every moment

A certain future has been closed? 

I cannot jump, lift myself bodily, 

Swing along these rails, as I did,

But all that I have done exists: 

It cannot be unmade. Every act, event, 

That happens remains in its happening.

 

4

We have not walked far—minutes—

But we will always walk this track,

Step between these roots, crush

Underfoot the dry and wasted leaves. 

We will do this through eternity. There is

No assertion in this beyond the fact

That our activity is real. It exists.

 

Can existence be unmade? The river 

To our side flows through all time,

And flows outside of time, has risen

From the banks and thickets

Of its everyday course, as the birds we hear 

Will chatter still: every moment created   

Is. By coming into being, it will be.

 

So we jump and swing ourselves, hand

Over hand, along other pairs of rails,

Stomach muscles curling, legs kicking 

Forward, behind, and the monkey bars 

Are loud with other kids, calling above 

The ready hands and arms of parents: 

All this will be—as we too—here always.

 

5

And we, walking together—parents 

Ourselves—will always lift and watch 

Our squealing young, and catch them 

Round wriggling waists in dropping: and 

This is something marvellous, that we

Can bring existence into being, and not

Children only, but what we choose.    

 

Every choice, action of ours, holds, fixes,

The chosen, acted, thing in the eternal—

Holds it as the thorns on this blackberry— 

And alters what can be. The river,

Invisible somewhere at our side, 

Is always a thing stilled, always seen,

A current that is constant and immobile.

 

And while we walk ahead, we are still

As the river in its flow: and allowing  

Its force in me, I know myself carried 

In a sustaining, supportive stream,

Nothing separate from it, from you—

All human, natural, disjunction ceasing—

But thinking this gets in the way. I stop.

 

My steps have become uncertain—a foot

Caught in the twisted roots of things—

I lose balance, certainty. I cannot undo 

Mind, imagine it away, I carry it and

Separation as myself: I am not you,

The river, trees, the one who swung

On other climbing frames. I too am other.

 

6

But we walk on, and will, and choose

To pass this side of a tree or that, and 

What we choose at every turn is further 

Creation of our being, and though 

We chose nothing of the trees, the water, 

They come too, along with ourselves: 

Inhuman, indifferent, companiable.

 

And if our steps—half chosen, half 

Determined by those before—led 

To meandering along this public trail, 

They bring us here, to a place 

Elsewhere, where there is no motion 

In time, no separation from each other, 

The river, or disjunction from the whole.   

 

This place cannot be held as we might

Hope or try, any more than I the rails:

It is outside of time, and these thoughts, 

Hopes, belong, remain, within us,

Within the mortal, in a kind of stumbling,

But this is where you and I, in love,

Chose this path that we together follow. 

 

And all that is—all to come—can never

Erase our experience, our togetherness, 

Here or anywhere, and not by any 

Action of my words, but because these 

Have been real, and having been, are

Parts of the entire fabric of existence, 

No matter where the river walk ends.

 

Harold Jones is a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. For 20 years and, more recently, another ten, he sent no work for publication, preferring to work at its development. His work has appeared in major poetry journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and has won the attention of leading critics and poets, among them, Ted Hughes: “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” Recent work appears in Merion West and VoegelinView.

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