They pulled you out between White’s Mill and Currier Street,
about a mile from the bridge where you parked.
The river is warmer
than it was in March
when everyone was looking
and putting up signs
and later on, looking
less, flooding to Facebook
to report what your mom
said, connecting the fallout
to fashion a lede.
You were “Missing Athens Man.”
Knives in the wood
after a knife-throwing act.
A stain of old pain
in the rearview reflection.
How come we hadn’t
learned our lesson?
You left your keys in the ignition.
There was goodness there. In the swell.
Everyone shouldering hope and doubt
on competing scales.
It seemed the proof you were looking for:
if life has worth, people will fight for it;
if people fight, living is worth it.
It made sense, on its face.
You had a great smile.
I could see your mother’s hope in it.
You wore your hair long
and it made you look vulnerable.
You probably would have hated this,
but “sweet” is the word that springs to mind.
This world is hard on gentle boys.
And I keep trying to recall if the
pizza delivery guy had long hair
or short, the week before Christmas
we got pizza at work.
Why should I want to put you there?
What could it possibly matter?
Your mother said she’d come for you.
Just hang tighter.
Once the weather turned,
I ran the section of the bike path
that bends to the river
over and over and over again,
pacing myself to its muted rhythm.
Its crooked spine, infrequent people.
The birds were sharp—soft—both together,
all at once. The wind in the grass
was a woman’s dress, a mouthful of milk
on a taut clothesline.
My son plays baseball on the fields nearby.
And you were a rustle
in the thirsty brush,
drawing my thoughts as my
feet held the line
because I saw the men huddled
along the bank—
sonar trawling, sirens off.
The water flashing
in the sun.
There and back,
I took the bridge,
culling the edges with my eyes,
reading the gaps between the lines,
seeing the eddies bubble and
froth, disturbed by the dead limbs,
big rocks, uprooted trunks.
Trespassing on something
that wasn’t mine.
Even now, not sure
what I’m doing here.
But you see how absence becomes abyss
and you think God, how do they carry this?
I absorbed you. Not impulsively, not all at once,
but incrementally, with the herd.
We swallowed you in desperate sips.
You sank in, like tea, leaving leaves at the end.
An archetype with a face
pulled from the caves.
The lost son. Come back.
Your brother has killed the fattened calf.
For you. Come back.
Won’t you hear?
I want to take your pictures
down, so that she won’t have to.
I want to hug my children tighter,
preserving their shape in a better forever.
We never learn.
It never makes sense.
You needed more time.
Pain is a bridge.
The paper said
you left a poem behind.
It’s April now. Winter was hard.
The lilac is late this year.