Stones River, December 23

Tonight it will rain and grow colder still,
but this morning is clear and bright.
The early sun is alive, awake behind the treeline,
its beams dancing like fairies on the water,
and casting long shadows on
blue-green glass, to the glory of naked trees.
The river exhales into the chill winter air;
its breath rises in smokey ribbons
through the stillness, like faintly whispered
secrets of its own soul’s longing.

Resting against an old sweet gum,
I sit on its knotted roots, unearthed, exposed
to light by untold years of the river
flooding and flowing and falling.
My gloved fingers lace around a
stainless steel mug of tea;
my restless mind works
the endless questions, asked–never answered–
time and time again.

Out of the hush, a voice breaks the
disquiet in my spirit, and maybe I heard
what the river spoke:
Stop.
Let it feed you.
Let this be only what it is: a quiet morning beside the river
two days before Christmas.

So I lean back into the rough trunk of the
time weathered tree, whisper the words of the
Irish poet across the water in thanks, and
swallow the sunshine with my tea.

©stephanie g pepper, 2021

instructions

to plunge

your hands into the
cold river water spilling
over rocks covered in moss
so thick, so green, so soft–
velvet under your fingers

to squint

your eyes in the
light where the sun plays on the
rapids so bright, so brilliant–
a thousand diamonds
dancing on the water

to touch

your tongue to the
bead of honeysuckle
nectar so fresh, so pure–
rainwater from the roots
sweetened with the summer sun

to turn

your ear to the open
window as the robin’s
song drifts through the yard
so nimble, so delicate–
a gold filigree suspended on the dawn

to breathe

deep and fill your
lungs with the scent of
rain and wet earth
so clean, so rich, so musky–
the very mud your body was born of

is

to know

how to be alive.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

Nice Mill Dam, October 2019

How I wish you could see the
river this morning,
all swollen and fat,
running fast from the first real rain
of autumn after the long
drought of summer.

The riffles have turned to
rapids; the water foams white
as it tumbles over the rocky
shelf in the shallows
near the bank where
I sometimes sit to pray.

On the weir, I sit in the middle of the river,
and see that the water, surely,
rolled over this rocky dam in the night,
washing up sticks and leaves and mud,
now caught in the ledges,
lodged in the cracks.

And I think how you would love
the river, the way I love the river, this sanctuary
on earth. How, in the presence of the
river, eternity breaks through time, breaks
through space, and flows
into the soul, and into the heart, and stands.

With the grey sky, it is clear, now,
that autumn has fallen at last, and
fallen, truly, without you. But I
remember love, and how
once you have loved,
you always love.

So I release you to this
river, to be carried far from me; for
I cannot hold you here, cannot keep
you here with me. So go now,
and be, and live freely, in
hope, the life given.

©stephanie pepper, 2019