Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Crossing

The Crossing

Look: that’s me on the right
with my daughter’s eldest daughter.
We sit on sacks of grain, she and I,
in the white Siberian light,
afloat between the brightness of the water
and the brightness of the wide and hollow sky.

Now we near the shore.
The dip and splash of oars
breaks the slow silence
of the river's run,
stirs spiralled mud in the shallows:
another crossing nearly done.

I have crossed over so many times.
My Oka. Not so great 
as the Ob or the Don, I know,
but still my river, borrowed from God,
born from distant Altai snow
through winter's ice and summer's heat.

‘Are you thirsty, Babushka?’ someone asks.
But I’m used to thirst.
I’m grateful for the thirst
That lets me know I’m still alive.

I’m grateful for the strong arms of the rowers
and for my granddaughter’s quiet company
beside me in the white and silent sun.
I’m grateful to the sown, and to the sowers,
I’m grateful for this harvest-seat of grain.

I’m grateful for my tired eyes,
For the tiredness of my body
that tells me I’ll be grateful for
another crossing soon to come
towards a yet-untrodden shore
beneath another brighter sun......

Painting: On the River Oka, by Abram Efimovich Arkhipov, 1890


  1. That is a beautiful painting that captures the sense of the people and their lives. Their lives appear hard and rustic and yet there is the beauty of the river, the sunlight, the sky, and the beauty of presence of the people in the boat. The poem speaks from the character of the older woman. She is tired but she is enjoying this sense of just being, just sitting and enjoying the aliveness of the present moment. The title of the Poem is the Crossing and this title imparts a sense of transition, and certainly the painting depicts the scene of going from one shore to another. In a way it represents how all experience, all phenomena, is a crossing since everything is in a state of continual transition. To me the preciousness of the poem is how the grandmother imbibes the moment. If everything is in a constant state of change then is there something that does not change? And where could this be found? The answer is with us already. Like the lady return to the here and now because the here and now is all there is.The answer to what is changeless can only be found here.

  2. Dear Emma, this poem expresses so much, so simply! We learn that acceptance lies at the heart of all, and from that acceptance flows gratitude. But the old woman's gratitude runs deeper than simply 'being grateful'. It is a gratitude for all which she now experiences, and has experienced in her life, both good and less comfortable to bear. It is this deep gratitude which allows her to reconcile herself even to the great 'crossing' which she knows she soon will make (and which we all must make): the crossing between life and death. Even for that, at such a time in her life as this, she is able to express her gratitude. The simply-expressed thoughts of this elderly 'babushka' have so much to offer us!

  3. Joseph and David, my apologies for this late response, but your moving reactions to my poem have warmed my heart!