Since the Pleistocene Age
you have worn a groove
through this land,
patient waters
like a finger rubbing
again and again. Some
have called you Old Man
River, but to me you are
Missus, a wise one,
old and going strong.

You have seen the heart of this country,
kept a steady pulse, from Lake Itasca
to the Gulf of Mexico. You’ve seen my heart too,
as I walk the River Road, listened as my footsteps pounded
and my head raced ahead stumbling, fretting.
You never laughed, your kind ear leaning
toward me.

I have been afraid all my life. I am afraid
to walk down the path to your woodsy banks
alone. Someone is always coming
after me in dreams. I recheck doors
I know I’ve locked. I admonish my children
to chew grapes carefully, not play with them in
their mouth. Never play on the railroad tracks.
Never swim in the river.

Your comforting hum makes me forget your pulsing current.
You carry barges, Old Missus, have worked
tirelessly pushing glacier-melted waters
for two million years. How many humans
have walked beside you, spilling out fears like rose petals?

You are nine feet deep, you are one hundred feet deep.
You are but a stream at your source, you are 4500 feet wide in Illinois.
I don’t know what to believe about you, when I walk
looking down the bluff at smooth water. How many bones
have you carried? Buried?

I know you won’t tell. You are just here to listen
after all. Patiently carry the water, push the barges,
witness land and life. It is ever changing, it is
always the same. Your steady heartbeat. My
fears are nothing new.

Please, Missus, catch these petals, carry them.
Flow them past the delta, let them enter
the greater ocean,
the greater mystery.

by Theresa Jarosz Alberti

published in the book, (After) Confession