This is a favorite of mine. It’s in the book I wrote about the trip that SANDY and I took up the Amazon River and into some tributaries years ago. The book, SOUNDS OF RAIN, was published in 2006 by Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
For those of you who remember the back story, I loved the trip. Sandy did not. That was the year I forfeited all future rights to choose our vacations.
The riverboat we were on, Amatista, held about 14 passengers and a crew of 8 or 10. Without notes, I can’t be sure. Small anyway. The poem is about watching our vessel negotiate its way upstream in the dark, sometimes through cramped channels and around short turns. Memories of a lifetime.
The boat’s twin running lights
punch long tunnels through the dark.
Ghostly clouds of insects swirl,
a smorgasbord for swooping bats
whose shadows fly along the bank.
The narrow stream coils ahead,
a twisting snake that squeezes in
until the boat can scarcely breathe.
A mounted spotlight casts
its blazing eye from side to side
as Captain shoulders through
tight turns and shallow places.
Tree trunks caught in the glare glisten,
white skeletons surprised by light.
I imagine armies row on row
of tree bones marching on patrol
beside us in the night.
The trip eventually prompted me to write a YA novel about that gigantic forest and one of the stories I wanted to tell about it. I have not yet found a publisher. It begins like this.
The Amazon River flows flat and brown between banks guarded by trees without number. The sky is so wide that yellow sun in one area doesn’t bother flashing rain clouds in another. This is the largest rainforest on earth. It covers more than two million square miles and is home to nearly one out of every three kinds of living things. In 1999 my wife Sandy and I journeyed into the Amazon rainforest. We left from Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world that can be reached only by plane or boat. From there our adventure took us past the headwaters of the Amazon onto smaller rivers that led us more than one hundred miles into the forest.
An old friend of ours shared something he and his wife had recently done in response to an article he’d read about simpler times. Dr. DOUG DUNCAN and wife LINDA decided to reenact a day in the life of a summer event when ice cream in the park was a special treat. Here’s his report.
I purposely reminisced about those days yesterday by sitting outside in the shade on the hot day in front of a fan drinking a Coke out of a glass full of ice like we did in the days before anyone had air conditioning. Then in the evening Linda and I got an ice cream sundae and ate it in a park. Also enjoyed ignoring the bad diet just like we did as kids in the good old days.
Also, when we went to the ice cream shop I didn't bother to clean up after working in the yard or change out of my sweaty old clothes and sandal stained with dirt, grass and stains from picking and eating raspberries from our flower and vegetable garden. While we ate our ice cream we listened with pleasure to the frogs on the waters edge and geese as they walked by a few feet in front of us asking us if we were going to share whatever we were eating with them. All this while we watched the blue sky and pink clouds fade as the sun set.In addition to his profession as an orthopedic surgeon, Doug is a gifted photographer whose pictures illustrated SOUNDS OF RAIN, the book I wrote after a trip up the Amazon a number of years ago.All four of us were on the trip, along with a dozen others from the Springfield area.
Upstream the jungle hovers,
leans in from either side,
hides secrets behind vines.
Unexpectedly, three huts perch
along a strip of clay.
Men stand still as trunks,
size us up as hunters do.
Mothers pause, smile a little,
a courtesy to strangers on the river.
Children laughing with their eyes
run the bank naked or not
good will grinning across the water.
They wave and we wave back
until we turn the bend,
carrying away the memory.
(c) 2006 David L. Harrison
Thank you, Doug, for the great reminders of times that were.
I’ve no idea why I woke up this morning thinking about the Amazon and the trip Sandy and I took there with a group many years ago. Or the book of poems that eventually came from the experience, SOUNDS OF RAIN.
The book was difficult to lay out and took forever and after all that it didn’t do well commercially. Maybe I wrote my thoughts poorly. Maybe the audience for rain forest poems was not large. I got out the book this morning and still like it and risked spending too much time sitting here with the pages open, thinking back to that trip and all it meant to me. Here’s an offering inspired by a moment when our small group toured a village perched on a mud colored clearing on the bank of the Ucayali River about 100 miles deep into the Amazon jungle of Peru.
FACE OF THE AMAZON
She stands beside the path, stooped,
leaning on a crooked cane,
resting there to catch her breath
watching children play.
She nods and smiles
like on that spot
once she was the one chased.
Her face, mahogany
finely carved, deeply grained,
polished hard by sun and rain,
a portrait of the Amazon.
(c) 2006 David L. Harrison, all rights reserved
from SOUNDS OF RAIN, 2006, Boyds Mills Press
I finally found what I’ve been looking for all over the house, my notes from the trip Sandy and I took up the Amazon River in Peru in 1999, all 77 typed pages of them. I sat down at once and began flipping through pages, pausing here and there to read passages. These notes have already produced poems, a book of poetry (SOUNDS OF RAIN) and an unpublished middle grade novel (DOWNRIVER). I’m getting ready to write a text about the Amazon for a new book, which is why I’ve been looking for the notes. One night a few of us went in a flat bottom boat with our guide Edgard to look for caimans. Here’s an excerpt.
The motor is silenced.
We drift in among floating plants, all faces forward as Edgard leans out over the water with his Cyclops eye of light.
Two feet from the boat something unseen slaps the water and submerges. Caiman? Edgard’s back shows his disappointment. The thing we came to watch escapes with its mystery intact.
It’s drizzling as we reverse from the tangle of plants and continue.
“I want you to listen,” Edgard tell us.
The driver kills the motor and Edgard snaps off the light.
We drift on the current beneath a starless heaven, suddenly aware of the throbbing night sounds from the banks and the jungle beyond. The night belongs to frogs.
For once we do not pester Edgard for identifications. It would be like whispering in church.
I worked hard at taking notes throughout each day of the trip, and it was another job to transcribe them all from field notebooks to typed notes. Of course they’re on the computer somewhere, but I haven’t been able to locate them. That’s why god made paper so we can print them and save them somewhere in the house, easily available after days of looking. Anyway, my point is that I love good notes. They are worth every second we put into making (and keeping) them!