Apart

 

For Lola Valing


In Gifu, I met a woman who knew
how to tell rivers apart. A woman

who had a sisterhood with the body
of water. I asked if one could step

into the same river twice, my hand
in the water, against the current, groping

for a conventional book, a theory,
to tie us close. I thought: If I held her, would I have held

the same frailty, the same elusiveness
I once was too busy to hold in my own palm, of a woman

I called lola, death doubling her weight, sinking her
in the undiscovered oceans of the mind? Because I know

how death can break us
as if the clocks of our bodies cease to usher us

into the next earthly mornings. And yet
I had never thought someone so seemingly complete—

not even a lover locked in the skirmish of sex—
as I thought of lola as she swam alone into the stream

of death, silent, only telling my cousin Mary:
“Child, you must stop speaking in words.”

She was in a conversation, she said,
with another person, invisible,

perhaps her youthful soul leaving footprints
in the air on that long cloud-bound journey.

Can you tell me old woman,
the name of this river? I asked.

Yes, the woman said, her hand, her arm,
her body quaking, as her weight rested on my forearm.

Himekawa, Himekawa, she said again and again.
And this is how we must return, I felt:

to water—understanding only the body,
whispering a foreign name,

holding onto something.

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