the lean-to of the river man

It was one of those places which,
We were told with stern faces and tones
And the occasional smack to the butt,
That we were not to go,
A place of childhood sing-song
(River man, river man
He’ll sink his teeth right in your can
)
And, later, of clandestine beers and smokes,
Or furtive encounters with steady sweethearts and short-term solutions.
He’d set up something akin to a lean-to
Hard by a reasonably well-sheltered bank,
One wall of rocky dirt, the other comprised of lumber
Which had been abandoned or purloined or somewhere in between,
And if you resided in that narrow niche
Where you were too old to be scared shitless of him,
And too young to dismiss him out of hand,
He was of a mind to accept a bit of company,
Possibly share a bit of somewhat-warm, store-brand soup,
Even a bit of coffee, if you’d developed the taste for it.
He’d been in the merchant marine, or so he claimed,
Driven there by the search for some constancy
He’d never been privy to in a land-locked world,
Figuring the ceaseless expanse of the ocean
And the regularity of shipboard routine the vessel to all that.
He’d been deeply disappointed, of course,
The waters a kaleidoscopic maelstrom of blues, grays, and purples,
Alternately hammock-smooth and Gothic fury,
All in nothing even mildly evocative of the regularity of the seasons,
And so, he intimated, he’d jumped ship in some unglamorous port,
Living on the run (though for how long was an open question,
And the whos and whys of his prospective captors
Not a subject that he nor his listeners were of a mind to broach)
But he’d never quite been able to shake the lure of the water,
And so he’d set up housekeeping by this particular stream,
Convinced the current held some epiphany, some augury
Which occasional suggested but never truly spoke to him
(Can’t trust the water, and can’t trust the land,
And that hain’t left me much ‘n terms of other options,

He was wont to cackle twice or thrice an hour.)
One day, before some of us were of a mind to see him leave,
He was gone, leaving no trace behind,
Perhaps run off by some officious sheriff’s deputy,
Perhaps by his own leave, searching for some river bed
Which spoke more sweetly, more distinctly,
Or perhaps he came to believe there was a third dwelling option
Somewhere on the banks of the jet stream its ownself.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: A tip of the faded John Deere cap to the indispensable Thom Hickey, whose post about the late Nick Drake started the gray matter going in this direction.)

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8 thoughts on “the lean-to of the river man

  1. And so he’d set up housekeeping by this particular stream,
    Convinced the current held some epiphany, some augury
    Which occasional suggested but never truly spoke to him…

    This seems to be to be an accurate metaphor for life, and gives your strange river-dweller a kind of Everyman appeal. I enjoyed the tale immensely.

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