Almost Heaven

I wake before the Carolina dawn and leave my sleeping family. I start the car with a fear in my heart: I do not belong here. The same feeling waits in Cleveland.

I focus on the long drive ahead. The lie that peace waits for me, speeding somewhere along the twilit highway.

I grieve to leave all the love behind in the moonlit Blue Ridge Mountains. I could not reach it, though I tried.

Deadset, fast North, I will not give in to this feeling of isolation. I make good time through North Carolina and Virginia, but lose momentum near Parkersburg.

I cannot bring myself to leave the beauty of a West Virginia morning.  I pull off 77 and park at a Wildlife Refuge along the Ohio River.

Railroad tracks wind close against the water. I step a measured cadence along the creosote-anointed ties.  Butterflies lead me to a shaded path, past purple weeds and white dogwoods. I slip down the silt bank and sit on a flat river stone.

I dip my fingertips in the cold, muddy water.  It’s part of my weird superstitions, a ritual. To delicately place my hands into bodies of water as I pass. A sacred reminder that I exist, that I am part of something.

The riverflow breaks my heart in a gentler way than mountains in the rearview.  A profound current of loneliness takes me and I do not fight it.

I cry until I find hopeful tears.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve crossed this river.

I say a prayer of thanks.

And then I cross myself.


never cross a river twice
without paying your respects

go down soft
along the riverbank
and reverently touch her
with grateful fingertips
as bowed maples
know to skim
the slipstreams

the butterflies flash
among dogwood blooms
– white tears on soft silt

rivers make you wonder
why we hide from simple love
why we stay away so long

when gentle hearts repent
the river’s existence
is forgiveness enough