C. E. Chaffin

Wading the Smith

Stepping through shallows
slippery with moss
some stones big as boars’ heads
some pebbles merely
hard not to slide.

Fifteen feet in
the current quickens
scours stones clean
easiest stretch
until the river deepens
pushing my knees
with the strength of mountains
that pushed it here
where purchase is hard.

Teetering biped
I will certainly fall
I am little resistance
don’t fight the river.
Less force thigh-deep
but stones blur at this depth
let my feet be my eyes
plant myself and cast.

Pool too far
need a weightier lure
numb feet my doorstops
how the river pushes!
awkward to tie, hold pole,
return pack. Heavier cast
tips me into steep edge of pool
waist-deep and wavering
back now, easy now, safe.

No strikes today
cold marbles my calves
toe’s fires snowed out.
Last cast nothing,
nothing again
now the shore so far
let the river throw your step.

Crouched low
lumbar center strains
fifty yards a lifetime
flow to the next foothold
advance by tangents
after all this luck
don’t slip in the shallows.


Fungus balls of dirty jade
bead your rough branches.
Grackles and pigeons
hide in your crook.
Ribbed like miniature ferns,
your stingy leaves
make for a leaky shade.

Beneath the tortoise burrow
and the jackrabbit hole
your python roots
gulp the desert aquifer,
cradling stones
like a clutch of dragon's eggs.

Egrets sail over
your canopy's green cloud
but know better
than to trust its softness—
your hidden thorns
rake arms bloody.

Armored against all enemies
of your misered water,
you don’t bleed like a cactus.
I doubt even the brilliant orange parasites
that bloom in mini-organ pipes
high in your prickly arms
steal much from you,
likely live on rain.

back to Contents page