Chests Pounding, Lungs Rasping by Christopher Baumer

Brother, meet me at the river. Wear those bib waders that belonged to your grandfather; the ones that were too large for your skinny build but kept the water from your legs all the same. Bring a plastic box filled with lead weights and treble hooks, bits of yarn and cork balls colored in neon oranges and pinks. Follow the dirt path around the house that we used to call home. Go all the way back, until the dirt gives way to what was a field where wildflowers and stiff stalks of milkweed once grew—this before the river’s edge became a construction zone, a destination for retirees who only stare at the water from balconies and never swim. The frigid temperatures keep them bound to the shore.

Brother, meet me at the river. I will be there with two salmon poles leaning against one shoulder. Remind me how to string a leader, how to set tension on a reel. I’ll be sitting on the rotted boards of the dock’s edge, where years ago our father told us that our dog was dying. We were two young boys staring at the water through wet eyes, all that the river has carried: both to us and away. It’s that same square of dead lumber that is surrounded by living oak, gnarled bark speckled with the dried husks of cicadas, the shells that they left behind each time the season changed—and they were reborn.

Brother, meet me at the river. We can wade among the grass-tufted clumps that sprout between boulders. We can cross the small stream that feeds into the main channel, make our way to the tangle of blackberry bushes and the warped tree that hangs over a patch of choppy white foam. If you bring a rope, I’ll bring a board. We can anchor ourselves to a branch and surf the current, let the force of the water drag us down down downstream until the rope is taut. With a snap that stretched rope will yank us up and out of the water, back towards the tree. While our hands still sting from holding to that rough braided line, we will cup the water and swim; we’ll float with each riffle until we crawl to the shore and lay in the sand, just two pounding chests, two pairs of rasping lungs.

Brother. Meet me at the river. We can collect the smoothest rocks and send them sliding across the water’s surface. Or we can heave them in a slow arc towards the far edge of the divide, hoping that this time they might land firmly upon the opposite bank, that this time they might not fall just short with a splash and sink to the bottom.

Christopher Baumer holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Oregon State University. His work has also been published in O-Dark-Thirty and As You Were: The Military Review. He lives in southern Oregon.