READING THE WATER
You have to know cascades and rapids,
Runs and riffles, flats and pools,
The places where trout ambush food—
Behind a rock or sunken log
That breaks the current, underneath
An overhanging bank or shrub,
In gravel trenches, at the still
Seam where currents sew together.
You have to know what color means:
The gold of shallows, the deep green
Of water holding fish. You have
To know the languages of streams:
Mountain creeks gurgling through ferns,
Spring creeks oozing earth's clear blood,
Meadow streams snaking through lowlands
While cows wade and ravens jeer,
Freestone rivers—cobbled highways
To the sea. You have to know
How to probe the pocket water
And weed flats, to work a riffle's
Head and tail as it twists in its stony bed.
You have to know the sheltering lies
Where trout hide from their enemies,
The holding lies where they can rest,
The prime lies where lunkers brood
Like sulky kings, the empty water
You can flail all day, foolish
As Darius lashing the sea.
You have to know where mayflies hatch,
Where caddis nymphs trundle their pebbly
Caves ashore, where stoneflies crouch
And gnash their jaws, where midges swarm
Like winged commas tossed from a printer's tray.
You have to know the glades where nyads
Comb their hair and play, the pools
Where water eases pain and dissolves years.
You have to know what the rain dreams
As it lies sleeping in the clouds,
What mountains say as lightning flashes
Peak-to-peak. You have to know
Where sunlight hides when night's cold
Current covers you, your heart a boulder
In a black stream, and how to read
The poem the moon inscribes in silver
On the dark rush you call your soul.
from Reading the Water, published by Northeastern University Press, © 1997 by Charles Harper Webb.