This poem by Alaska-based poet Dan Branch is an exploration of the healing power of flow, as embodied by water, and a reflection on the values and burdens of guilt.
The Carrying Strength of Water
Running near flood after the storm,
Fish Creek waters carry a summer
of salmon carcasses to the sea—stinking
reminders of once rich silver-sided fish.
I test this power with a sliver of remorse-filled
memory. A hateful word never taken back. It
escapes a patrol of gulls, bounces into the creek
and floats, then dissolves like a communion wafer.
Another memory that I can sleep better without
of teenage cruelty is snatched at in the air
by a glaucous-winged gull. It too drops
from beak to beak until hitting the water.
Searching my catalog of discomforts, I remember
protesting the Viet Nam War between college classes
while others served—toss its weight into the water,
can now forget that I never welcomed soldiers home.
I scan memories of injuries caused by my carelessness,
those useful for changing bad habits, and emerge
with one formed in the ER from wound, needle, and sutures,
drop it through the growing cloud of gulls into the stream.
Now worried that I’m more vulnerable to deep cuts,
I stop jettisoning even painful memories. But if I could sever
the emotion from the recollection, I’d dump all my guilt
off this bridge and let the stream carry it away.
Dan Branch lives in Juneau, Alaska. He won two first prizes for poetry, one awarded by Charles Bukowski. Kestrel included one of his essays for their Fall 2015 issue. Others pieces were recently published by Cardiff Review, Gravel, Metonym, Tahoma Literary Review, Punctuate, Swamp Ape, Windmill, and Portland Magazine. He recently received a MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage where he won the 2016 Jason Winger Award for Creative Nonfiction.