I wrote this pantoum about and for my father a few years ago, based on a picture I had from a white water rafting trip we took when I was in Scouts, taken right before I got flung into the rapids (I looked terrified). I hope you enjoy it on this Father’s Day. Sorry I couldn’t find the picture it’s based on!
The New River
You will soon ride under the river alone.
The photo was taken offshore, by a professional
waiting to capture my fear before I faced what they call the Hole,
a Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.
The photo was taken offshore by a professional.
He caught that stupid yellow duckey, my front tilting up
over the Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.
My eyes are wildfire. Father’s stay steady and blue.
The stupid yellow duckey is lopsided,
father anchors into the water, pushes me up.
My eyes are wildfire. His remain steady as blue
waves overwhelm us with the river-white foam.
Father weighs down in the water, but the river will push me out.
The picture shows my oar, halfway out my hands,
waving, overwhelmed by the river-white foam.
I wish I could tell my 8-year-old self: don’t worry
the oar is halfway out my hands,
but father’s will not be moved.
I tell myself even now: do not worry,
my father’s hands are sure. He will not leave me.
My father will not be moved.
He already can see the end of the rapids,
and his hands are sure; he will not leave me.
He will never be ashamed of my fears.
He can already see the end of the rapids,
the rapids that teach me to fear death,
but he will never be ashamed of my fears:
he shares them with me. By his outstretched hand
my father will teach me to fear death, but also
to keep my young eyes still, my new arms strong.
He shares his with me by an outstretched hand.
He looks ahead for me and tells me what is coming:
Keep your eyes open. Your arms strong.
Release your fear as you face what they call the Hole.
I will not always see ahead of you, or know what is coming.
You will soon ride under the river, alone.