Battenkill

by Peter Weltner

It’s famous:  “Best trout fishing stream in America.”
Here, the river doglegs, forming a pool Eakins’
boys would have loved if they’d lived near, flat,
man-sized rocks to sun on, a hemp rope, high
as a silo, tied for years to an old oak branch
still able to support two or three grown men
swinging over the water, frothy where deepest,
to dive or cannon-ball in.  Summer’s such
a kingdom on the Battenkill.  Idling bird song.
Folks on inner tubes floating by.  Beyond Gerald’s
and Bob’s, it curves past bridge and silent mill.
In the corners of yards, on the borders of farms,
headstones stand erect or lie half buried,
well-kept or moss-covered, some chiseled with dates

older than the Battle of Saratoga.  Small American
flags, some wind-shredded, memorialize the fallen.
Its planks peeling like infested redwood, fathomless
pits gaping between boards, a barn forms
a backdrop of sorts to a terrace, one of three
edged by brush and rocks, that descend to the water.
Fenced on both sides by fragments of stele or bits
of monuments no longer standing or long torn
down, its path narrows like an isosceles triangle
to a point where a girl’s beautiful head carved,
etched from granite rests on a tall wood plinth. 
The woman who posed for it now’s dead, lying
only a few miles away under her own stone,
guarded fancifully by giant sculpted dogs.

Memory’s a heraclitean flow none can cross
the same, unchanged, each time.  I barely met
her, spent much of our one afternoon together
talking Faulkner with her and her husband, saying
how in his art landscape, place, is always part
of us and the past races past us faster than
the future can try to catch up—or something
like that.  Who knows anymore?  The face she wore
was an old woman’s graced by joy like Hals’
Malle Babbe, an owl, wise to age, also darkly
perching on her shoulder, the girl she was
and is in her sculpted portrait still visible, as if
life were endless, streaming like the Battenkill
under winter’s ice, fighting to stay river.

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| Peter Weltner

Peter Weltner is the author of Beachside Entries/Specific Ghosts, Identity and Difference, In a Time of Combat for the Angel, The Risk of His Music,and How the Body Prays (book of the year Silver Award, ForeWard Magazine).  Two O. Henrys, 1993 & 1998.  To be published this year:  From a Lost Faust Book, a chapbook of poems, and News from the World at His Birth, a book of poems.  Two recent online publications:  “Laguna Beach:  After Shelter” at Barnwood International Poetry Mag and “Stalking Quentin Compson” at Clapboard House .  Peter Weltner was professor of English at San Francisco State University, 1969-2006.