River Passage (Breathing I)

5 hours 2 minutes
Alexander Lyle
Unnamed River, Ashvem, India

laying – before me stillness like the Himalayas of nothingness
maybe this will be easy
maybe I have no idea what will come
the sun incrementally pours its weight into me
and the water comes with relief to my slowly quieting mind
I can feel it clearly – a cool line encircling my body – creeping higher
slow like the blood pulsing from the far reaches of my body.
reaching out for my ears gently at first, then with maddening percussion
there’s nothing to do but wait for the roar of transition to subside
and then wait for the water to rise past my eyes, my mouth
clicking sounds travel through the water from around me – hours later I would learn their source as crabs pinched at my toes, fingers and right ear
in time water laps over my parched lips,
a brief struggle to calm my breath as it comes and goes through the length of bamboo
then peace
for a while
slowly my nose plugs fail
vaguely salty water starts to slide down my throat and my fingers can’t seem to pinch my nose in any way to prevent it
more water
a decision to make
do I stop now and try again another day? Have I failed?
commitment – at the end of the day I know the work here is the commitment and not the image
I buried the bamboo and arched my back to bring my mouth and nose just above the water
and began
water played over my eyes like the patterns of an Arabic partition
breath large in my skull like a a ragged horn through fog
and then that familiar space of clarity
that old friend: a quiet mind

a deep dull pain
and then spasms
the right hip first and later the left as well
was I shaking from the cold or from the fatigue in my hips from arching my back to breathe?
can’t stop shaking
why do I do this? Does it mean anything to anyone? Does it mean anything to me?
Who is this man struggling for his life in knee deep water?
time passes – time must pass – the tide must pass
can I do any more?

it’s just a body

the frontier

and a new peace – not the peace that occasionally calmed the spasms and found warmth in tightly held arms but a peace that rolled right on through the clenched teeth – burning legs – shaking body reality

it came

but without fail
again and again
and with it came support
the edges of my body lost definition
the edges of my mind lost definition
I knew I was right where I was supposed to be – I ceased to feel like an alien in the river

like fingers on my scalp the water seemed to hold, almost push, my head up
tension left my neck, shoulders, back
and then the calm of high tide – I could feel the sun warming up the still water – just enough for me to continue on

that must have been just past half way

…and peace of mind or no my body was pushing it’s limits with each moment
I opened my eyes for the first time since laying down
and saw over head in a royal blue sky a circling sea eagle
the sun will set eventually – an hour, two? Some unit of time
it’s just time
it’s just a body

the tide had been on it’s way out but had a way to go
I knew – my body knew – that it was time
I sat up feeling the world fall away from me – the hard edges of everything disorienting and strange
like a new born baby I wept – uncontrollably – without thought or understanding
and slowly I walked away from the river.