A River Ran Through Me

Down to the River

Every day I went down to the river,
knelt and drank the fluid home
of copepods, tadpoles, periwinkles
and my eyes turned inward,
dazzled a dark light
deep into my chest.
There my heart turned into
a forest of long reaching willows,
tall as redwoods, leaves glistening
like silver splinters of the moon.
Each leaf housing hundreds of June bugs
that pulsed a score of miniature heartbeats
creating a wave so large,
it rode over my body and I swear,
the sound of the river
became the sound of two cranes overhead.

This was a poem I wrote about a place called White Creek in Washington State that brought great solace to me as a teenager full of angst. When I sent the poem to poet Wendell Berry, he said, “How fortunate you were able to drink from the river.” Yes, I was fortunate when so many of today’s rivers — from the Anacostia to the Ganges — are so terribly polluted. In the past, I have had the pleasure to work in depth with the River of Words project, which was conceived by former Poet Laureate Robert Hass. This project teaches children about their local rivers and watershed system through the creative writing process. There is an annual poetry contest (deadline December 1), and the winners receive a trip to Washington, DC, to read their poetry at the Library of Congress. The focus of this project is to have children learn where their water supply is coming from; study their local creek, lake, or reservoir; and become familiar with the surrounding flora and fauna, integral parts of the watershed system. If children learn the earth on a first-name basis, it allows them to establish a more intimate relationship with it and thus hopefully they will be inspired to keep it clean. This project often works in conjunction with science teachers and beautifully bridges the gap between science and art, education and earth stewardship.

Below are some poems written by fourth-graders from Wade-Thomas School in San Anselmo who visited their local watershed, Lake Lagunitas.
Rust Divider

Rain Is Light

It creeps up, turning everything limp and damp
as a newborn bat’s wings.
Crystals falling out of silver.
A single trout takes over life,
good and evil.
It first starts sprinkling, then drizzling,
and within seconds, it’s pouring.
Rain has no manners.
When it turns the world black,
it is the only light.

~Kyle Amster

Rust Divider

Ode to Tiny Newts

Oh, tiny newts that are as black as
the rich soil you live on.
with your reduced-to-a-millimeter-long legs.
Oh, how beautifully white your skin turns
when it catches the sun on your
two inch long tail and body.
How stout you look when you march
singly across rocks
and how frightened when you
scamper for safety of a space
under a large rock.
How sticky you feel when held
for a few minutes.
How well you blend in with the soil
on which you dwell.
Tiny perfectly black newt.
You look like a young salamander.

~Gabriel Ocker

Rust Divider
In my experience of working with River of Words, I have found most children do not know where their drinking water comes from and cannot name five native plants that live near them. River of Words is a timely educational tool, and I encourage poet-teachers to implement this project with their regular poetry curriculum.

John Muir states, “The sun shines in us, not on us. The rivers flow not past, but through us.” White Creek flowed through me along with all the birds, trees, and insects. It gave me a feeling of aliveness and a sense I wasn’t alone in the universe. I was lucky to have established a relationship with it as a child, and I hope the same can happen for children of this generation and future generations to come.

See the River of Words Project for Teacher Guides.