The Debate of the Geese

by Judith Chalmer

Must memory be sad, asked the reed of the oar?

I believe, dear, it has always been so.
But what prompts you to ask,
said the oar to the reed,
as it dipped high and low
and flashed its bright blade at the sun.

I've considered my fate, said the reed,
in the fall, when the mist hovers low
and the willow leaves flock
in great rafts of deep gold
and the seeds burst out on their silken threads
and twirl in the wind while my toes grip
the cold and I shiver in fear
for all that is green, huddled below.

Then pick up stakes, said the oar to the reed,
and wind your arm over my neck.
I'll bear you ashore by firefly light
and the tick of the dock and the crick of the chain
and a tumble across the wide sand
will fool the dread fates and you'll huddle no more
in the horrible lake where time floats by
so smooth and so slow that memory’s mired
and your question’s germane.

Oh no, said the reed, you don't understand,
un-rooted and bare as you roam.
Though my feet never stray, my mind’s carried away
in the whispering wind by debate of the geese
over vast nebulae and mysteries too great
for ear, nose and eye.  It isn't for lack
of moving around that I mourn in the brilliant fall.

Then what’s your complaint, asked the oar of the reed,
if your mind runs free and follows the dragonfly,
fishtail and stardust, all patterns of flight and fancy delight?

Thought streams, it’s true, said the reed to the oar,
can be light, sometimes, bobbing along past noon.
But their rapids run rough and can spoil the shore
with stinks and stains before jumping the banks
barbed with rubble to tear at the town.

I've pressed my great palms, said the oar to the reed,
beneath the rapids’ rush and I think with the strength
I possess to defy the cold spray I could rudder the
rise, protect my frail reed and no one will drown.

If that’s true then let go the hand
that circles your neck, said the reed to the oar
and plant your broad back by my side
so the dreadful fear that howls at my core
will surely recede and the flowers will bloom
and never will fade and the fast floods
will swell no more.

Alas, said the oar, I cannot let go of the hand that clasps,
for future and fate, no matter the strength of my back
or my will, are not only my own, no more, dear heart,
than your fronds could disperse tomorrow’s seeds
without the harsh wind and so I depart.

 Will you come here again, asked the reed of the oar,
while I can still stand the shivering nights
before frost breaks my bones
and I lay my cold neck on top of the leaves
that once were so gold and soon will turn black?

Perhaps in the spring, said the oar as it rounded the bend
and dipped out of sight, soon to be stored
in the back of the shed while the snow piles high
and the skunk curls below the splintery boards
and the mind does its best to preserve the bright days
when the slim reeds danced and the current ran true
and hope sang the song and its words were new.

Judith Chalmer lives next door to a children's playground and is Director of VSA Vermont, a nonprofit that uses the magic of the arts to engage the capabilities and enhance the confidence of children and adults with disabilities. Her poems have appeared recently in Quiddity, Apex and Stone Canoe.

She is incapable of picking a single favorite of anything and therefore supplied two favorite fruits. First favorite: Durians and in particular the livetronica band, Durians, which draws its name from the durian, a Southeast Asian fruit known as "the king of fruits" for its overpowering scent (it's banned in many hotels) yet heavenly taste. Second favorite: a ripe peach split in half, pitted, and wrapped in foil with butter, cinnamon and brandy in the center, then roasted in coals, ideally on the shore of a misty lake. A square of chocolate may fall onto each half when it is unwrapped. Large beings are drawn by the scent to the fire.

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