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  • Always a River
  • Robert Vivian (bio)

In the dark in the middle of the night I hear the river calling me, a low murmuring summons coming from the north. I wake at 4:00 a.m. and hear it flowing by the windows and inside my spendthrift blood and everything around me reaching all the way to the already fading stars, speaking the same spare syllable over and over. The river's been calling me for years now in just this hushed and streamlined way every early morning and throughout the day as I sit at my desk at work in front of stacks of paper wondering what all of it means as I'm quickly coming to realize how my life would be profoundly diminished or shipwrecked altogether without this same water-born speech. I don't know when or why it began talking to me, but I hope it never ends. The river has slowly swept away all hidebound notions of God and country and what passes for importance and achievement in this all too frail and rickety human life like so much silt or runoff, carrying this same desultory cargo down its swollen throat to empty out into another body of water where it'll be properly drowned or dispersed forever.

I don't know why it should be this way, the what-nots and the wherefores and deep down hidden reasons for this same headlong movement, only that there's no turning back: but more and more only [End Page 139] the river is real and what it has come to reveal to me at the edge of sleep and the rest of the livelong day or when I'm fortunate to fish by its banks in the summer, just the trembling glass it has given me to see through to the first thing where life began in a microbe and fish hover dream-like in the shallows. Somehow I always knew a river would restore me since I was a boy, though for many dry and land-locked years I turned my back on it in gnawing doubt and ended up ignoring it altogether, which makes its reclamation all the more astonishing in the light of this drawn-out apostasy. But now I can say without apology or heat that the river is the deepest and dearest truth I know, the one that makes me hopeful and alert in the early morning like I am newly born, carrying me back to that ancient place of awe and wonder even as it takes me forward to as yet unforeseen headwaters, giving me something to hope for and to hold on to in my middle years even as it slips through my fingers like any running water must.

Drunkenness and failure have brought me to the river, and so have many sorrows and missteps, signs and clues I thought led to something real only to discover they were dead ends, so many of them they would fill up entire phone books with the details of such laughable woe. But the particulars aren't that important anymore, if they ever were. And you know how this is or someday will have to be, reaching that point in life after so many requisite hard knocks and unfulfilled yearnings, and how, if you're lucky, you discover a body of moving water waiting to claim you, how even now one's waiting to deliver you back to the threshold of the kingdom where you meet your astonished self in a holy place that truly is heaven on this earth: nothing was ever truer or simpler, nothing was ever more am. I speak it through the iridescent button eye of a smallmouth bass. You know because you are, like I am, water-born and destined to return to that transparent place where seeing is eternal and the sky reveals the unblinking mirror of your days, looking forever upward. Can't be any other way. So more and more I go to the river in body or spirit in order to be made new again and to drop the specious fetters that keep me tethered and constricted as the years fall away...