The river changed course
By three feet.
Thus the willow withers from thirst.
Thus the rock is set alone like an altar.
Thus the grassy hill browns.

One father changes course
By several streets.
He gets away from family.
He gets away from divorced his spouse.
He gets away from adult children.
In the good years, he took them
To the river and pointed out catfish
Just under the surface.
He put his youngest on his shoulder
And hiked the mountain.

He asks his ex,
Remember the weekend at the river?
No.

He asks his grown princess,
Wasn’t it fun flying a kite there?
No.

He asks the oldest,
Remember the barbecued trout?
No.

Happiness moved three feet,
Just enough for one father to dry up like a river.
None of his children
Remembers the tree or the stones
Or how when he cut the family name
Into a picnic table
The knife folded over a finger.
He had bled for this family.

He Skypes with the middle son:
You remember when I nearly cut my finger off?
No. And, Dad, can you send me some money?

When a river changes course,
Fathers dry up
And becomes brittle at the touch.
 
 
 

Photo by cluczkow

Gary Soto

GARY SOTO's new books in 2018 are a reissue of his first poetry collection, The Elements of San Joaquin, published in 1977, and a retelling of F. Pérez Lopez’s El Mexicano, a guerilla soldier’s testimony during the Spanish Civil War. He lives in Berkeley California.

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