Either Oar

i remember walking by the river
and wishing we were in boats, drifting down
the river, so we could be like ideal
parents, ever rowing, purposefully.

you would say something like, ‘it is true that
options are finite, but that’s what makes you
perfect,’ and i would smile. about the lapse

in pedal-boats, and steamers, we would push
out, beyond, past the solipsistic banks,
the barbarous confusion of brambles.

we would get that field feeling of set
squares and fecund possibility, that
comes when threats of drubbing conformity

are gone, and threats of tangled nihilism
are just a clever parlour game. so rare
in the city to see a face i know

reflected not in shop windows, but in
the mesmeric stillness of the water;
so rare to feel like an end in yourself,
rather than another body, heading

underground. here on the river, it is
only the unreasonable clunk of
obstinate oars, the silent hints of sad,

steady jets criss-crossing the sky, that speak of
fleeting hours, but these are fears best left for
another day. while we are here, it is

only the simple autonomy of
honest action that propels us, only
the ebbing delicacy of sufficiently

tamed forces that gifts us with a gentle
dominion. far from the dark and smoky
fulminations of the traffic, far from

the malarial airplanes infecting
the sky, far from the modern mess of new
demands and disturbances — on this light water,
i have never felt so far from drowning.

and you say, ‘it is true that options are
finite, but just this once, you can take up
either oar, it is all the same to me.’

and for once it feels like my shaky
performance isn’t being judged, for once
it feels like i have a real choice

outside of living; for once it feels
like we do not have to be always like
my parents, ever rowing, pointlessly.

and it’s only an accident of birth
that we’re both here; only an accident
of happy routines and demographics

and sizeable suburban aspirations.
the tedious patterns of traffic
suddenly have a still-juged beauty,
now a laughable abstraction in our

rocking idyll. They’re like the mercantile
scars of enclosure that seem pleasingly
piecemeal, and close-knit, in perspective.

but still there is a sense that we’re getting
away with shirking, though we really have
nothing to do. and really there’s still a

gnawing sense that we’re getting away with
nothing, which seems like the only thing worth
doing, anyway. here, where there’s no need

for the complex deceptions that let us
cope with life, i see your face for the first
time, rather than just the skull behind it;

here, where there is no need to compensate
for god, i’m blind to the artifice that
hides the glaring finality of death.
instead, i see only the dizzy path

laid before us, sensically, like a
child’s join-the-dots. i am happy when
i am busy and occupied, sharing

in the bleak gallows humour of tradesmen,
lazily buzzing and idling; i am
happier still when i’m plainly wasting

time with you, and laughing, blind, only half-
believing there’s more out there, clattering
away, through our misted breath; but i am

happiest of all when we’re complicit
in a totality that doesn’t
really need either of us, but is
improved, somehow, in perpetuity,
by our passing through.

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