By Timothy P. McLaughlin
In the effort to become more like water,
I’ve taken to walking the dried arroyos of New Mexico.
Gliding along their twisting, sandy trails,
following the water’s worn tracks round trees and brush
and endless rock,
my blood flushes itself through,
my spine rises back into an aery float,
my eyes moisten and relax their glare,
my fixed notions and fine judgments blur
into the total.
The soft, pebbled sand lends my legs
a boyish bounce and the walking rather does itself—
fueled by the ghosted river current
still running strong between
the shallow banks.
Sometimes, I’m sure I spot a flash of trout
just ahead wriggling its fins
or feel a misting rise off the grainy riverbed
and fill my nose.
But the dryness offers its own comfort
and its truth—cracked and thirsting—
reminds me why I came and what I might
need carry home lest my skin turn pale and brittle,
my air go stale.
Once, in a prairie land still full of voices,
where the plants and roots have never fallen silent,
I shook hands with a stooped, wizened Lakota grandma
at a feast. Her gnarled fingers curled round my hand
and the space between our palms
glowed like fire.
She hardly grazed my skin; it was the gentlest of touches.
And yet my whole form felt embraced by her warmth,
a lightness rippled through as if I’d been dipped
in a cool brook.
Life was there—full up and rushing!—and not held bound
but given so freely, I yearned to know what Source her cords
led to and fed from.
Surely, she spoke to the waters at dawn, called on them,
her bucket bathing more a soaking in than a washing off.
Her coffee was seeped as precious medicine,
her food boiled in holy rain
over a talking flame.
And her patchwork trailer house—with no TV or books—
was ever filled with fluid visitors—legged or winged, furred or scaled—
streaming in the bright doorway
of the wood stove.
I know by now she’s gone beyond, but sometimes, on my walks,
I find her shadow sitting beneath the knotted fingers
of a piñon pine. I unshoulder my pack and kneel; and when
she’s nodded me in,
I settle and offer her water. She breathes on it and sips
then gives it back, Drink, grandson, she tones.
And when I’ve swallowed and made my prayer
and tasted deep communion, she slips off again—around the bend
into the rolling winds.
I leave some bread, a slice of fruit, a bite of chocolate,
a pinch of tobacco, and know we’ll meet again—
in an arroyo bed or on a prairie bluff—and let our hands entwine;
and I’ll learn anew to let my waters dance and sparkle long into the night,
however cold and arid
it may become.