Moaning, the river wakes. Her greyed current strokes the boulders, combing algae off in flakes like pulling dried mud from a wrestling child’s knotted head. Her breathing you barely miss — the way music played from a neighboring room comes off blanketed, foreign, all those lyrics we lose to the weight of the wallpaper. What I’m saying is maybe we’re missing something in the river’s language, maybe her lyrics, tossed from bank to bank, become bait for the bowfin, and maybe their scales have secrets they don’t want the silence to share. Maybe I think too much of this. But haven’t you heard the trees grow anxious in their whispers? Don’t the branches scold? How naïve to believe we are the only ones with stories to tell, the only bodies whose sentiments pin themselves to our sleeves. Hear the way the leaves, long dead, fly up and around each other, and you’ll hear a corpse’s only wish: to not be buried beneath another. Listening, I drop a stone in the Congaree’s mouth. One moment, her esophagus is heavy with its gulping; the next, a chorus begins.
Morning dew on denim, I lean back into the cold blanket of the cement’s early sweat. The stick of it traces my spine, my ribs, and I imagine dissolving into it, the grey rock gradually reaching around my bones until my body becomes memory, my voice becomes dream. I left you knee deep in the river to scale the scorned stature of the viaduct that, left in the heat, begs the trail to take it in. The Riverwalk obliges: moss takes to concrete like ink poured on a blank page, the cool crunch of it filling the plant’s open mouth. Sitting, I scrape and scrape until my nails are browned with the swampy stain. You call up from the river and the distance turns your voice stranger. Lost cause, you say — well, let it be lost. Let nature’s appetite consume, and let her thirst swallow this haunted track whole. Let the vines take heart in their journey, smoothing up the tracks slow, like moccasins called by their god back to the sky.
Soon we cannot stay. Soon the day will open her heavy doors and our bothered lives will be on their way, tripping with the weight of everything we didn’t mean to carry. Meanwhile Congaree’s currents continue. Water folds into water, an origami of melted patterns we can’t begin to replicate, her dimensions different than our own, here, where there are one hundred versions of above and beside, even more of below. A fish leaps from her tide and immediately falls again, like something beyond gravity waits pulls her to the floor. We cannot stay, though all she asks is our company: no understanding, no burden of the way our science turns beauty into handwriting, turns her language into latitudes. The sun has risen now, its homebound rays making a million little mirrors out of every crease in the river’s surface, a million little ways you can watch yourself burn and bide, whither and wake, but we say it again, say it until the wind grabs our words by their collars and carries them to the coast: we cannot stay, we cannot stay.