I went down to the river, a place I love,
to feel the first spring breeze against my face.
It brings to mind my boat, my Belle,
my heart for many years.
We'd go early each spring to open her for the season,
to take the antifreeze from her pipes,
the veins that gave us water,
to sweep the cobwebs from her windows,
awakening her from slumber.
I checked the lines, still snugly tied
and turned to greet the boat, "Hello, Belle,"
as I always did, running my hands along her sides
I could tell how her winter had been.
The feel and sound of my fingers as they
stroked the rough wood told me where
I would need to scrape and paint.
One rough trip I found her hull scraped bare,
leaving a patch of polished steel
where before had been matte black.
Badly hurt, she'd brought us safely home
and deserved our tender care.
I washed and painted her wound,
remembering the scream of metal
as she slid unhappily along the lock wall,
and hoped to avoid an infection of rust.
Knowing her in this way, she became a living thing
and I wondered at her days when we weren't with her.
I once found a winter's worth of bones and scales
where an eagle had used her deck as a fishing lodge,
a place to enjoy its tasty catch.
It felt unfair to sweep the pearly shards into the river,
like erasing a page from Belle's diary,
expunging her life with other tenants
who'd taken shelter there.
Too early to hear the carp drumming on our boat,
adding their voices to the bullfrogs' choir
along the Muskingum's banks,
we curled against each other in the night,
a cocoon of warmth against the chilled March air,
where we listened to bright sounds,
like cocktail party chatter,
as the river rippled past the hull.
It was a loving struggle to bring her to life,
and when she was ready she was stolen
by a patient criminal, her lines loosened
by nicotine-stained fingers and a lifetime of lies,
to cruise on bitter rivers.
I turned from the river and walked away,
as the cold breeze raised sharp ripples,
sounding now like a shattered heart.