Self-Portrait, as a Watercourse

Not a teacher, not
married, twenty years ago
—was I this person
I am now? At Mass
in those days, the Creed’s words
filled my mouth
and like parakeets
flew happily out.
My heart was in it.
In those days, I climbed
the long steps of the college quad
in night’s thinnest hours
with the woman I spoke with
every single day and who loved me,
I’m sure, in her own way.
I proposed. Within a year,
we both wept
then exchanged no words
for more than a decade.
Even the skin of the body
I call mine, liver cells,
blood cells that Sherpa oxygen
from lung to muscle have all gone
and been replaced.
I am a river
flowing through myself.
What did I know
from books about Hiroshima?
The knowing-that-comes
from standing, damp
and close, waiting
for a streetcar
on the humid stop
then herding on board
to sit across from Sora-sensei
explaining to a third-grader
that this densha
—the very rattling
streetcar we swayed inside—
rode on
through those atomic
August days—
that knowing only came later
to a man becoming me.
I am a creek-feeding
runnel, dry for weeks,
and the cycle of my life
is the cycle of one year.
Aging is expansiveness-
in-flow, crystallizing
as self reaches
beyond self
beyond who I am
so that 20 years on,
at the age my father
coughed against his cancer,
when I can no longer
call myself a teacher,
what prayers, what pills,
what gratitude,
will be my companions,
enlivening the man
I cannot meet.

Edward A. Dougherty is on sabbatical from teaching at Corning Community College to research the creative process and to write.

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