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 These notes have already produced poems, a book of poetry (SOUNDS OF RAIN) and an unpublished middle grade novel (DOWNRIVER).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!
My dad used to love sleeping under a tin roof when it rained. I loved lying on a camp cot in a tent, listening to rain dancing on the canvas three feet above my head.
When Sandy and I went up the Amazon a few years ago, it inspired a book and I named it for what I remembered most vividly about the Amazon: SOUNDS OF RAIN. Heavy drops of water pounding the rain forest canopy and cascading from limb to limb create a deafening calliope of watery tunes.
This morning it’s raining as I write. I’m reminded of the opening two lines of the chapter on Ketchikan, Alaska in a Charles Kuralt ON THE ROAD, book: “It was raining the day we arrived in Ketchikan. It is always raining in Ketchikan.” Kuralt’s words eventually beckoned Sandy and me to Ketchikan. It was raining when we arrived.
Today the drops peck at my window, drum impatient fingernails on my roof, tatoo a billion dimples into Goose Lake. They remind me of my father. This morning I signed a book for a 3-year-old boy. It happened to be a book that I dedicated to Dad. I inscribed the book, “Elijah, I wrote this book in memory of my father, John Harrison. He was a good man, like you will be when you grow up.” The rain reminds me of days when I was five or six or seven, camping with Mom and Dad on the banks of Whitehorse Lake in Arizona.
I want to write something about rain but don’t know what to say. Maybe you do. Maybe rain, not the violent kind that destroys, but the steady sort that nourishes and quinches thirst and brings new life, speaks to you too.
If you feel moved, please share thoughts, memories, even poems about the sounds of rain. Thank you.
I’m pleased that U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt is featuring a poem of mine today on his blog, http://www.poetryminute.org/ . My thanks to Kenn.
The poem chosen is called “Ambassadors” and comes from SOUNDS OF RAIN, a collection I wrote based on a trip that Sandy and I took a few years ago up the Amazon River and beyond into the rain forest.
I may have posted the poem here at some point but perhaps you’ll not mind seeing it again. Thanks for checking it out. Comment if you like.