Two Poems

The River Crests North of Stillwater  

For Laura Reed McDonald, age 20, who died August 10, 2008 on one of the unnamed slips of land in the St. Croix River under the Arcola Railroad Bridge.

The St. Croix struts through its channel,
whipping the bank with sticks
and destroying the framework of its own bed.
The water isn’t still, as the town suggests;
its body springs like Superior, lathered
in a clipper’s grip.

I stand on the battered bluff,
knowing I can’t calm or curse the river.
It won’t be coaxed to return what it has taken.
This morning it swallowed the islands
below the Arcola bridge, pulling them
into its greasy body; along with the waiting
nests, disturbed sand and the water plantain,
just beginning to unfold.

Two summers ago,
trumpeter swans colonized
these unnamed slips of land.
From this same tangled bluff,
I watched the swans descend
under the span of the bridge
and fold around the trestle;
a single wave of white wings,
alighting softly like tufted seeds.
Cygnets swarmed from shaggy nests
to muck the silt in the shallows
for duck potato and crustaceans.
Their boisterous calls rose like laughter
from the green hush of the grass.

A muddy foam swirls
above the vanished land
in the gray emptiness
beneath the bridge.
The river is the interloper here;
the land will rise—stripped and new
when the flood subsides.
Even if the swans do not return,
this dirt has work to do.

Why I Am Always Lost

Because maps
are portable graffiti,
expendable art,
confusion of color

Because the GPS
shows, that on occasion,
the river seduces
the road, and reassigns
names to landmarks
I once knew.

Because the compass rose
is a flower with bodyguards.
Its thorns can be spongy
and verdant,
the petals crisp and dry.

Because road signs are shards
of broken poetry,
fractured spiral and maze,
the actual vessel unknown.

Because you repeat,
with immeasurable patience
go east, or north
and all I can do
is love your voice.

Because numbers—
speed limits, mile markers, distances—
suggest that time is real,
and I wonder who else
might doubt it.

Because the states of mind
aren’t divided
by rivers and lines.

Because the villages
of the heart are remote
and hard to find at night.

Because a destination
is where the journey ends.

—Sue Crouse, Stillwater, MN