John Lane & Michael Delp

Eddy Lines

Authors' Notes

When I read at Interlochen in the autumn of 2004 Mike Delp and I started what proved to be another fruitful collaboration, ending a few months later in Eddy Lines. Mike knows rivers from the inside, as if he is part shorebird, or trout. I know rivers too. This meant that our exchange of poems would flow toward some delta and settle there as deep silt. I'm glad that this sequence of 3-line poems (each with a river somewhere within) ended up at Flycatcher. Delp's still up there fishing on the Boardman. Sometimes he looks at this computer, so he might see this on-line mag, but it would probably be best for me print it all out, fly up there, and cast it on the waters. Maybe he'd notice if it floated past. The etching "Riverbed" was done here in Spartanburg over a decade ago by my friend Doug Whittle. The rocks and water are still there, just downstream from my house on Lawson's Fork. —John

If you have ever spent any time around John Lane, you know he rarely sits still and is never far from water. His penchant for observation and a deeper understanding of water and rivers is beyond remarkable and the slightest nudge from him to so some duo poems was all it took. "Eddy Lines" felt as if we were making our own kind of language river. Our friendship has been marked by being kindred spirits, and I never step in the river without thinking of John, or Night Train as I call him, and the way he drifts through the world, his eyes like lenses. What great lessons he has given me for how to see more clearly. —Mike
Douglas Whittle

Wide awake, I walked into the river.
    It swirled around and I disappeared.
        Fish-eyed, I looked upstream into the current.

I dreamt the river turned to food.
    All night I fed like a mongrel,
        My teeth sharp knives of another life I needed to live.

Those little fish we once called
    "Knotty heads." No one fishes for them,
        But they still call this river home.

Yesterday salmon were churning in my bed,
    I heard them moving closer to me,
        Their voices calling out old directions, lost places.

Questions thick as gravel
    In a gravel bar. What great
        Truth heads upstream to spawn?

Who set these rivers in front of me?
    Who invited me to sing with the river gods?
        Who walks now underwater toward my life?

Through this muddy life
    Flows a river, taking
        Anything solid to the sea.

I search the eddies for signs,
    The skin of beautiful women,
        Anything to get me loose from this dirt life.

The fat man floats by.
    Is that a kayak or his
        Big belly holding him up?

Who is this aging fat man?
    This would-be poet.
        Scraping the sky with his fly line?

I form my hands into a cup
    And dip the river,
        Part my fingers and let go.

Some days the river slides up
    Into the sky.
        Then, I spend the day eating wind.

Is this river ever bad company?
    Ask questions only fish can answer.
        The river never cares.

I stretch my skin into a dugout,
    Wander off downriver,
        The whole day only one horizon.

If the boat will float,
    I'll float a river.
        Sometimes depth is overrated.

I step into the river
    And ask the only koan worth asking:
        Why not fish?

I asked the river who I am
    And it did nothing but roll on
        Down toward Glendale.

There's no seam here,  the river
    And clouds collide. It would take
        A fool to jump in today.

 I'm running a trapline,
    Looking for my drowned self,
        The river seeping through my skin.

 In my dream the river was ice
    As far as I could see--What to do
        But skate away like a Yankee?

 I dream the river full of kudzu,
    Confederate ghosts drifting north,
        Then wake with my head in cool, river air.

 Just an ounce of river would be
    Plenty to make something
        Better than all those damn businesses.

  All week I roamed the banks,
    Checked the gravel bars,
        Found myself only once.

 This morning the river
    Was still there. What did I expect,
        An interstate highway?

 Who cares if the sky opens,
    If the trees bend to the ground?
        I open my veins to the river.

 My whole life I've been
    Waist deep in a dark river
        Hoping the water wouldn't rise.

 I'll give you my back for the river bank,
    My head for seven clouds,
        This moon tonight stays here.

 If it's rain you seek, don't look
    To the airy clouds. The river
        Gathers it all in one place.

 Weeks ago I dreamed the river dry.
    I spent another month gathering myself.
        Tonight, I drink beer with the moon.

 I come to the river
    In love. But it's muddy
        There, where the heart flows.

 Leaves down.
    Snow in the air.
        I rub my skin against the cold river.

 This morning the crickets
    Have returned. They congregate
        And click near the foggy river.

 Tonight, the trees turn into fog.
    The air weeps itself out of existence.
        I turn and walk as deep as I can go into the swamp.

Sycamores make good neighbors,
    Heads high in the blue air,
        Their feet ankle deep in the river.

Three crows upstream.
    One drags the air for messages.
        The other two watch me fall asleep.

 Mink working the river's bank
    In the first real cold.
        Blue dawn mist just rising.

 I offered my mug to the moon
    And she turned it down. The river,
        On the other hand, embraced me.

 I chased the moon all the way downriver.
    Ended up in the garden of delights.
        Her hair just fresh from the water.

 The things I love are river things.
    A boat floats past my window.
        Headed where? Downstream is good enough.

 I have no ideas beyond water.
    The full reach of the river
        Dredging my tiny head.

 Everything's broken but the river.
    I look into the human junkyard
        And long for a clean run to the next bend.

 It doesn't make good sense to say the river
    Is overflowing. Isn't it just the channel's
        Not big enough for all that water love?

No meetings on the river,
    No forms, no faxes. No babbling...
        Only the pure sound of moonlight caught in the trees.

The river under my skin
    Is so deep my toes don't break
        The surface. Next rain, I might drown.

Imagine the world as a river gone mad,
    Better yet: a river sleeping between its banks.
        Or even better: a river under your own skin.

Don't let that asshole tell you
    A river is a firefight or that we're at war
        With the world. It's river all the way down.

Run the rapids of desire,
    The eddies of confusion,
        Make of your life a whitewater gorge.

If the subject of elections
    Comes up, turn their attention to the way
        Rivers have of making forceful arguments.

I trade my lips for gravel bars,
    My ears for cedars,
        The skin on my back for the night sky.

I knew a man asked
    The wrong questions of the river,
        Ended up dry as a mud flat.

These old rocks on the river bottom:
    What do they say?
        Where have they been?

When I see the river,
    Will the river see me,
        Or turn its back and leave?

Huck pushes off,
    The sky a deeper river,
        Stars caught in his eyes.

This morning a dog running some
    Zombie wind through the bottom.
        Could be Warren Zevon's ghost.

Ghosts in the wind coming off the river:
    Somewhere, Warren Zevon is letting himself out,
        All dead dogs howl at the moon.

A daily dance, river over stone,
    And the light from the edges.
        In a time of darkness I look to water.

I want pants woven of water,
    Shirts made out of the sky
        A river in  my stomach.

Rent me an eddy, or better yet,
    Buy us some property with a view
        Of the current. I'm dry as a desert.

This mortgaged soul needs water,
    The deep pockets of dark rivers,
        A small boat to finish the job.

My intentions were not honorable.
    Like the river in flood I groped
        Among the reeds for a clear channel.

Somewhere a politician is eating the sun,
    Stopping the flow of a river.
        Planning a night attack of tar, roads, dead clouds.

That's all you can ask of fish like us—
    Swim  upstream, against the current, leave a something
        Simply for the future, or die trying.

I threw my clothes to the river,
    A yard full of leaves,
        The last remnants of any poems.

If the geese fly over,
    Direct them to land on the banks of this river,
        For I am sick of a landscape so empty of need.

I netted living words from the river,
    Sent my lips searching for sounds I had forgotten,
        Owl language, crow, the whisper of muskrats.

A River of sentences and damn it,
    If a miserable period isn't all I have
        To stand against the flood.

All rivers flow to the sea,
    These shit-stained beauties
        Think to themselves.

Is that rushing sound the river
    Or my neighbor pissing off
        His goddamn ratty dock?

Riverdogs roam the banks.
    I sleep in constant sorrow,
        A man full of howling.

If I give it all to the river
    Like a man drunk on poverty
        Where will the dogs sleep?

I say give it all away.
    Tear down the house, use the boards for a river shack,
        A life given over to seasons, rising water.

Down the hill the river staggers
    Toward the upper shoals,
        Red leaves clogging the eddies.

Upstream, bears wander the current.
    Inside the cabin my fingers find her skin.
        All this darkness seeping up out of the ground.

I squatted in the cracked dry mud.
    Where did the river go?
        I looked deep inside for any small spring.

By the river I whittled myself out of existence,
    Tossed each piece to the current,
        Found a way to keep my soul on the high bank.

When the river dies
    Its slow watery death
        We all die from the inside.

They put me under,
    Hymns over my wet face.
        The river sang through my bones.

The river inside is glassy calm.
    Upstream--old heart, old life—there
        Must be some good weather and no wind.

Stumps in the river,
    Leaves catching in deadfall.
        A mind gone feral.

Fools check the sky for rain,
    I search the stones in the river,
        Find another way in to my life.

There's a river defined by hydrology.
    It flows mechanically to the sea.
        Inside is another stream governed by other laws.

Late in October I walk the creek,
    Leaves choke the tiny rapids near the house,
        I hear the crows talking snow.

Nobody's mentioning snow
    Where I walk. Smart weed's
        Still blooming on the banks.

There are many things
    A river's good for, and not
        One understood by a dam.

What good are all the rivers:
    The body steams in the night,
        Dreams itself loose, drifting.

This morning there were geese
    Near the river. They sat on a nearby hummock,
        Worldly visitors from upstream

Give the rivers to the poor of spirit,
    The disaffected ones,
        Politicians dry as husks.

The river doesn't need a literature,
    A canon of words flowing through time.
        The river needs rain and gravity.

It was Huck on the river,
    Looking at the stars,
        Thinking they were ingots in his blood.

Huck knew a golden dawn on the river
    Is better than coins in his pocket.
        The river's got all the bank he needs.

I rolled the bones,
    Came up in another country:
        All rivers. No roads.

I gambled the last good surfing hole
    For a sweet ride. Now I'm
        Down and out, on a watery skid row.
Think of the river as a 401
    That never stops,
        Water: money for the heart.

Call in the broker of rapids,
    Of water rallying down a deep gorge,
        And sell all my futures to him.

I sold my interest in lakes,
    Gave up the churning
        For the burning current.

The long river ends in the marshes.
    Let's drag our boat out there
        And find the place the sea reaches.

The Buddha: a whitewater gorge in my head,
    A long river into light,
        The night: stars collapsing into my reflection.

Muhammad sat by the river too.
    His hair turned to rolling flood.
        His words still circling in these eddies.

And Jesus is in the river,
    His hair turns to water,
        His words rolling like stones inside me.

If the river elected a president
    It would be some big bass campaigning
        In the current below a cutbank.

I trust only the hidden spring,
    The skin of the river,
        Fish staring at the reflection of the moon.

The voice of the river—
    Water flowing over stones,
        And swallows working the surface.

This morning I saw myself
    Move away in the current,
        Then threw my voice into the woods.

I missed a day looking at the river.
    I walk now along its banks
        Hoping for forgiveness.

I traded the moon for a poem,
    This river just now burnished
        Into a new language.

The new moon floats
    Among alder and cattail.
        The sickle sky drowned below.

One map falls out of the moon,
    Another rides downriver,
        The roads all gone, everything water.

In the mouths of caddisfly larva
    Are maps, and on those maps
        Are the secret paths home.

On the riverbank I break stones into ideas,
    Take them to my lips,
        Find out how the river works from the inside.

A canebrake of sadness,
    And a single rocky shoal of longing.
        I wade the shallows between.

So all night the river steeps in me.
    I rise to an empty mirror,
        My life wandering the back channels.

I'm a load of shined-up river till.
    I'm a log snagged in a deep bend.
        I'm hopped up on love like water falling straight down.

These old stones I carry, glacial till,
    The ones I keep under my tongue:
        The river's words ten thousand years ago.

This shallow river spills
    Its flow downstream
        And the sea offers its depths.

What rivers existed under my other
    Skin before I was born.
        What mountain dissolved into this sea?

Is the river anyone's original face?
    If you see some Zen monk fly-fishing,
        Ask him that for me.

I'll trade one arm for a river,
    This festering head
        For a weeping spring.

I return to rivers
    For simple solace.
        All that water let go.

The only available god
    Come up out of the river,
        Her skin on me like sleep.

There are too many gods
    And not enough rivers.
        I worship falling water.

I sleep the sleep of river
    Under my skin.
        Water warrior. King of rivulets.

My woman comes around at dusk.
    Buck naked we dance the water polka
        And pray for midnight.

I meet Desnos on the river.
    All fog, the night thick as water.
        He drops words like stones into my mouth.

When fallen leaves take on
    The complexities of magic
        They float like Houdini on the current.

I run the banks like a mad dog,
    My head foaming,
        My mouth pointed upriver.

When I look at the river
    Does it look back?
        If eddies have eyes, I'll find them.

I float the river,
    Something churning my heart,
        The old ways singing in my head.

Joy rises like a river in flood.
    Grief fills the channel,
        Logs swept downstream by the current.

Everyday I tell myself: give it up.
    The river slices through,
        Mind cold and full of light.

What grief river is this
    Rising below my window?
        Words can't dam the flow.

I look for the high ground
    Of the mind,
        The eddies of words under my skin.

This morning my head needs cooling off
    So I stick it deep in the river
        And breathe dreams of higher ground.

I give my life to sand and current,
    The hard language of rocks,
        My mind a dark sieve.

As a young man I tried to trade a canoe
    Full of sun light for two wheelbarrows brimming
        With sand.  Thank God, the deal fell through.

I take off my skin and nail it to a tree,
    Take it down in the morning and set it loose.
        Downriver my mouth speaks in the current.

I watch the waterbug
    In the shallows, a little
        Jesus walking its own Galilee.

I drown myself each morning,
    The river only getting deeper.
        Who owns these words today?

There's an old tire in the river.
    I watch it after rains to check the level.
        I always like to know where I stand.

In my dark dreams politicians run rivers of pus,
    Their gums bleeding,
        At night I toss my skin to the last clear eddies.

The river's polluted. Whose fault is that?
    If you took all the shit they threw at you
        You'd be drinking coffee with the Pope.

Oh, I got a river in my blood,
    Leeches in my hair, a washed-out grin,
        Skin like a rainbow.

There is a story only reeds can tell,
    Soaked in a backwash of a river,
        Whispering under the light of a full moon.

Years ago I fell into a river,
    Went down to live my life over,
        Found a woman and took the mud from her lips.  

I want to be that river
    In the distance, filling a green
        Field with somebody else's mud.

It's Dylan on the radio, both of us
    Drifting that long river
        Rolling out of his head.

A river runs through the living and dead.
    Yesterday, a weasle chased one determined bass
        Through a shallow eddy just downstream.

I clear a place for myself in the river.
    All night the churning takes me apart,
        Crows carry my skin into the trees.

Grief is no river a mile wide and an inch deep.
    We build this house in the deep bend,
        And sit looking upstream.

I bend to drink a glass of darkness.
    My face leans into itself,
        Drinks long. Drinks deep.

A clear morning.
    The river sleeps once more in its banks.
        How much water passed downstream after dark?

Three women carry me inside,
    Wash me with river water, put the stones back in my head.
        I sleep the sleep of lost time, old rock worn thin

Some pocket turned inside-out up there.
    A sky-sized bucket rusted through.
        Buddy, there's a river somewhere no longer thirsty.

Last night, the moon slipped out of the river.
    I slept in pools, my body a false eddy.
        The woman next to me sang me out of my skin.

Big storm blowing through.
    I'm too fat to fly and rain
        Only irrigates my longing.

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