the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




William Jolliff

A Heart That Dances

— for my Oregonian children

You can take the love I feel for Oregon, kids,
pour it in a thimble and add cream.
I'm fixed on the flat-footed square-
dance land that used to be my Ohio.
I was a happy man with cows and corn.

The places I can take you are aging dreams
with their magic rinsed away.
This coast, these deep Cascades, they're yours,
and I'm glad they took you in.
I was lost in coming here, but I do recall

how the countryside passed, then years,
until, finally, your here is now,
and you aren't my kids anymore.
I fumble around like a drunken caller
who just can't find the band or the beat.

Watching you bow and honor at your ease,
wrapped in baggy and Birkenstocked ways,
I ache that I couldn't give you my place,
while you have given me a heart that dances,
in love with who you are, with who you are here.


My Cousin Janie Sue's Almost-Husband Harald
Achieves Sainthood in Grandma's Front Parlor

To canonize a man, I've read that it takes
two miracles, minimum. Well, he had three,
the earnest young singer who saved my life
and set my boots on paths of righteousness.

First, he wore a cap, a Greek fisherman's cap,
inside and outside, all day, Christmas Day.
He swore it warmed his prematurely not quite
shiny but golden dome. All saints like domes.

Next, he told my own father, fearlessly,
that he was full of bullshit as usual
(what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed,

or with such good cheer). The room just glowed.

And the clincher: he played a fine guitar.
No thumbumming duffer this blessed one,
he patterned the bass notes on the bottom
and jangled an almost-melody on top.

I can hear his picking now — a double dose
of Paxton, Guthrie, and Seeger himself,
a smorgasbord of tuneful progressivist
propaganda. And I never recovered,

despite my rearing on the very back forty
of rightwing vacuity, and a life
lived in the service of the church itself.
Lord, have mercy on me a sinner — that's four.



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