I’d been sitting by the river all afternoon
and now the sun was going down and Venus
shone on the horizon. I’d been sitting
to watch how the water swirled into braids
and swirled out again. I was watching
a leaf ride the river until, drawn into
sluggish water near the bank, it rested.
Evening fell but the full moon made
moving water sparkle.
Quite late a trail took me up the long bank
and across a rough meadow home. But before
I climbed the porch steps I stopped and listened
to distant water and a single owl.
Above me Orion was still in place,
so I went in to sleep in a room whose floor
was earth and whose ceiling was moonlight.
All night as I slept, in generous swirls
the river pursued its intricate dance,
as if it were still learning.
—Bert Stern H’62
Reprinted from What I Got for a Dollar: Poems by Bert Stern, Grid Books, used by permission.
BERT STERN is Milligan Professor of English Emeritus at Wabash and for 15 years taught Changing Lives Through Literature to men and women on probation. His first essay for WM was “Being Here,” Winter 2005.