Relocation: The Building of the Dyke Levee

Again, I ask the young, bright in muscles
and orange hats as they stack concrete and lean
away from the river to plant their steel
rods: their rust-proof cattails detached
from trucks whose creaking
opens the sky and shuts it,
I ask, “How better to die than these
waters still circling thought?”
But they have forgotten
memory, dried it out on a hill
all ready to topple into cornfields,
or worse, into suburbs that claim to have conquered flood
through abstinence, by looking on: warning, scolding.
From that height they’ve seen night’s pinpricks of light
as cities reflected in sky, as coins glittering in mud
they’ll haul away. They can see
to Renovo, they say, to the last mountain.
But what is a view that doesn’t hold
your life? That’s dry and windy, without
a bank to slip out of, a bottom to surge toward?
These drops are baptism and burial,
the capsized breath on a frigid night
at the beauty of, not just stars, but ice,
thin-veined as my own face and sharp
as the scene I’ve lived with through lives
that ripple past with the river.
Yes, of course, I still smell the last flood,
the damp fear, but here is water:
morning lapping into another morning,
the enormity and smallness.