I’ve Seen Rivers

I’ve seen rivers at sunset
With the warm flow of currents
Carrying the colours of life down from the hills.
Patches of memory over the years burning
Into my recollection.
Birds skimming ripples of the surface
Cormorants and seagulls sending cries
Across the flats in the ochre of the evening.

In the deepening shadows the children chatter
As they take their nakedness into the cool
Of the waters in the wading obscurity of night.
The calm mixed with laughter scattered dispersed
And the evanescent hum of insects
Animals pausing to lazily slake their thirst.
The birds settling into their nightly routine
Gather their feathers beneath them.
Mothers secure their children for the journey home.

Mighty Amazon, the mother of them all
Brothers Congo and Limpopo in Southern Afrique
Holy Ganges, the Yellow and the massive Yangtze
and I Mississipi, Lady of the South.
Gateway to New Orleans.

I have seen rivers at low tide
With skippers and catfish flopping in pools
While wildcats capture a sweet start to their day.
Ibis strut nonchalantly along the banks
Buffalo tearing the green from edges
They stand and chew without a care
Dumbest of beasts, implacable
Impenetrable stare.
Hippos are boats cobbled together from huge bladders
They whistle and yawn at each other in rough seduction.
Closer to home there is the Darling,
The longest river in our land.
The Swan and the mighty Ord principally in the west.
Then the Snowy, the Murray
and Murrumbidgee. Too much salt. The Sturt.
The Derwent steeply between lush valleys.
Dry rivers like the Todd which sparkle with life
On either side for miles around — in the sun
With the coming of the rain.

I have seen rivers engorged with flood
Carrying the fruit of the rain before it
Lifting all before it in a sea of mud
Rolling like a carpet into the night.
Trees, cattle, antelope and deer
Even puny man caught and ruptured
Destroyed in the rampaging fear
The roiling tempestuous turbulent cover
That washes over in a final period
To their existence.

Nile, Tigris, Euphrates.
Oh you seats of mighty cities
Tributaries that feed the history of man.
Amu Darya poor cousin now reduced to a trickle.
The beauty of the Rhine from high in the Alps
Cascading swiftly down to the valley floor.
From the Rio Grande and Mato Grosso
Between Brazil and Paraguay comes the majesty
Of ParanĂ¡ second only to Sister Amazon.
Sweeping down to peaceful rest
In the basin of an Atlantic bed.

Africa has a plethora of rivers.
Some I have already mentioned.
But then there is the Niger,
The Orange near the eastern cape
And don’t forget the Zambezi
With Victoria Falls a spectacular view
Tho’ Dr Livingstone
I would have preferred
A name that’s new.

I have seen rivers overnight
Coating the desert from a storm.
Lifted in my sight
Illuminated by the light
I sense but hardly see the rain on the trembling waters.
Fish leap into the darkness to escape pursuit.
The predator distended with a surfeit of food
Almost torpid,
Incapable of effort, slips beneath the waves
To digest his feed.
And his prey
Lives, to enjoy another day at least .

Old Father Tiber what memories you must bring
The tales you could regale us with concerning mighty Rome.
The deeds and cruelty done in the name of Christian charity.
The blood and torture of the great circus.
Such extremes. Such torment. Such devastation.
But not to you alone are such stories owed.
The Danube has many tales of hellish bent
Some recently coined but just as fearsome
To the same extent for all that we pride ourselves
Of making progress in such matters.

I have seen rivers stagnant and adrift between tides
Belching occasional impatience in the languid afternoon.
After the turmoil bloated bodies surface trapped
Between the leaves and branches of dead trees
Lolling sightlessly. In death they do not have
The same appeal — to me at least.
But to the carrion eaters, one meal is the same
As any other. The birds above are ugly beasts
Not just because of their function but their
Manners are offensive to say the least.
Meanwhile down below old father croc
Is having a right royal feast.
Lip smackingly scrumptious from his point of view
As he pays his last respects to the late lamented
The carcass or if you prefer — the deceased.

I have seen rivers fill fields with cotton
Wheat and barley.
And those same fields destroyed in an instant
When too much rain has burst their banks
Leaving little or nothing behind but waste
Shattered in the dust, all — everything destroyed
Except faith in tomorrow and the belief
That better days are yet to come.

From the Rockies to the Alleghenes
From the Darling to the Mountains Blue
From Mexico to dark Peru.
Rivers rule our lives
With the water of life
Feeding forests and the verdant plains
Wet, fecund covered with dew.
I have seen them coming from the mountains
Midnight passage passing through
I have seen them sparkling in the fractured hue
Through the gutters,
The canals cascading downwards
Always downwards
Through the magic rainbow of existence
I have seen the rivers flowing
I have seen them come.
I have seen them in the evening
In the last dim guttering rays of sun.
I’ve seen the rivers and felt their passage
I have seen rivers — I have seen them come.
By John Hall

© 22/03/02 by John Hall