French Broad

By Jodi Rhoden


Yesterday we went down to the river to swim.

Across from the new construction,

Under the bridge by the train tracks,

The place everybody used to call Blowjob Park.


We waded and splashed into the water

And made a Labor Day picnic

On a concrete pylon

In the middle of the rocky shallows.


15 years ago, before the kids,

We marched here,

In a punk parade with horns and drums

And all the fervor of the Pentecost.


We lit an altar to Queer Saint Remedios;

We set the flaming altar floating downstream.

Yesterday on the shore a bench was filled with drifty men,

They let their blankets dry on a footbridge in the September sun.


A young girl splashed in the water,

Surrounded by a brace of brown ducks.

She fed them, beatifically, from her bag,

All her potato chips, one by one.


Cars clanked on the bridge.

Kayakers in bright colors put in and got out,

Tourists floated by on neon yellow inner tubes,

Our very own Ganges in these green mountains.


How many times have I made my prayers to this river?

Burnt offerings and veves in ritual whites,

My head perfumed and washed on Saint John’s Eve.

I’ve poured my whole heart out here.


A few weeks ago we came down to the river after work

And yelled and made a game

Of tossing leftover cupcakes off the bridge

To the people floating below.


That day, from above,

We saw a man wading in the water-

Staggering, stumbling,

Drunk in his boots and jeans.


Last week a dead man was found

In the dirty French Broad,

And I couldn’t help but to think:

Maybe it was him.


Yesterday another man

Stumbled into the river,

Red-faced and fully clothed,

Joyfully, carelessly, he bathed his whole body.


He sat down, satisfied,

Cowboy hat on, facing the sun,

In a cold stream of water,

Drunk in a shallow shoal.


Suddenly a skein of geese raced by,

Honking above his head,

marking their route by the river,

Flying southward through the city.


He lifted his face, enraptured,

And I thought to myself:

How hard it is to tell

If we’re drowning or being born again.