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.