Collecting Rocks Along the Clark Fork River
This time, we walk miles along the river’s edge,
Winding our way around yucca and low juniper.
I always think juniper smells like cat piss,
I say, because as a mother, it is my job to know
The right thing to say, and my daughter,
Twenty-seven, has just asked me about time
And babies and choosing and missing out.
There is a pebbly bar out in the river—a bit
Of strategic rock hopping will get us there.
Of course, the distance between plan
And execution can vary. In this case,
we get our feet wet but not egregiously so.
The day is warm. The sky holds no evidence
of the snow forecast for the following day.
I’ve never made it this far up the river, I say,
As we sit down to rest on the smooth stones.
When I used to come with both children,
They would run right to the water from the car.
It would have been pointless to make them hike
Any farther when there was so much not to be
Missed, right there at the beginning.
Look, my daughter says. She shows me a
Milk-white rock laced with dark pink. And this.
I hold out my palm and she places another rock in it,
This one deeply purple and pin-pricked all over,
As if, in a previous life, it had been all fizz and froth.
I add it to our growing pile. I will be hauling home,
Yet again, another load of carefully chosen stones.
I reach for one, slate grey. It’s nothing to look at,
But the surface is so smooth it feels soft.
You’ll know when you know, I say, aware
Of just how much I didn’t know and still don’t.
Did the river shape this one rock just for me?
It holds the warmth of the sun, and memory.
Its weight fits perfectly in my hand.
Go sit outside for awhile
the text message reads.
And have a banana
My daughter sends a
screenshot of this exchange
mother and daughter.
She follows with
a laughter emoticon.
I’ve said the exact same
to her more than once—it’s
all I’ve got left.
It’s been a lifetime since
I could put my body
between her and harm.
I’m no longer the riverbank.
I can’t suggest a route
or even a direction.
I don’t know the difference
obstacle and desire.
She’s in flood,
reckless and impatient,
hungry and powerful.
She won’t accept help.
She’s fiercely independent—
Didn’t I want that?
I think of the other mother
offering virtual bananas.
I imagine the two of us
sitting together on a fire escape,
legs dangling as waves
crash beneath us.
We lean back, lift our faces,
and wait for the sun.