Even with a personality of its own, my Saugus River is hard-pressed to be itself… so many things have happened to it, on it, with it, because of it. Did I dream all these scattered events, these small terrors? Perhaps. I was dreamy as a boy, romantic as a young man, possessed now. Possessed.
Every person who sat with grandfather Johnny Igoe in his kitchen or on his porch with the fireflies moaning in their ears from small clouds of them over the field as though a small invisible airship, a helium craft, held them in their shape, said I was out on the edge of straight sense myself.
Did these observers, politicians, gabbers, rumormongers, and heralds of the mighty truth, see what came upon my eyes? Did they measure what I had? Few recall harshest days where my river ran itself aground in emotional seas, while a boy reaching for manhood dragged with him all the garbage he possessed.
An old man, knee-locked, land-locked, a familiar roll still tossing his hips, cast eyes outward at stoneless graves, hearkening sons. He looks out at Father of all Seas, whose yard yet careens with lobster trap hodgepodge, for years waging war on balance and neatness. Strawberries he has running rampant part of the year. He planted them the year his sons caught the last lobster the last day of their last storm. In summers, strawberries and salt mix on the high air, the sense of loss heavy as sin
In August, when marsh grasses burn past midnight, justice is left over from smoke. Nests flare up whose young the minute before winged off. And salt comes up the river like all the wars’ wounded walking home, a worked ripeness, a pain hanging on for the kill. Salt promises to cleanse wholly a nursing home’s back room, backstairs, all that’s hidden from my street. It teaches me balm and history; it occludes itself, becomes a soul masseuse, assuager, its thickness at times a spiriting; and when it gets too heavy, too much for the soul, I see the Great Salt Lake flats, burnt wide under the poring sun, all its immeasurable reach being cut up in portable chunks for West-spreaders’ wagons, hear the clout of it all. I share salt with strawberries, others’ sons, arathusa bulbosa sadly purple in hiding places, the red-winged shifty pilots near their linted nests, eels I won’t touch, turtles I do.
Mist administers salt in dark dosages, or fog does the duty when streetlights flatten beneath the grip. Cures prevail. Some paralyses pale by comparison where warm waters muscle their way in. Strawberries sleep all winter. Only sons know the true darkness where the horizon comes down upon itself, where the salt is mined for healing wounds and hearts’ bruises in our own whirlpool and illume.
I still love the river the sea comes in on, how it knuckles down to the old milldam across the street from me, twice a day touching, twice a day. And the salt borne, all the salt borne.
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Forge & Slitting Mill, with Saugus River in the foreground. Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, Massachusetts