River by Richard Baldasty

One can hear the old river, which in its confusion sometimes forgets and flows backward.

                                                                        Charles Simic, The World Doesn’t End

It is Friday, March 28, 1941, the river Ouse, East Sussex, England, near the village of Rodmell, district of Lewes, just west of the Prime Meridian.  It has been fourteen centuries since the emperor Honorius advised Britons to defend themselves, nearly nine since Normans landed on the Sussex coast, and three hundred fifty-three years since sentinels along those beaches kept watch for first sails of the Spanish fleet.

Ouse, pronounced oose, from a Celtic word for water.

Virginia Woolf is fifty-nine

She has walked a mile across soggy fields and marshes to reach her destination.  She puts a large stone in the pocket of her coat.  She does not mean to float, but water will do as it will with whomever it takes by accident or design.  Children who find her body three weeks later think the bridge at Southease has caught a boggy log.

Wartime again.  Their home in London smashed by bombs.  Threat of invasion sticks like dank to mind.  Air raids rupture sleep.  Her husband, a Jew, also has means, should it come to that: doses of morphine in the kitchen, enough petrol in the garage to close up, run the car.

Voice has fled, she fears, and audience.  No longer can she conjure words from air.  I am going mad, she screams in silence, too far this time to come back.  Her lovely books—finished, no longer to matter.

Only the river disdains the droning overhead.  At its edges, weeds and sedges play against her, pretend to keep her out, pretend to pull her in.  So much to forget, for she knows well how to swim.

She has written a good note, valediction.  If ever notification of suicide can be generous, hers is, a loving goodbye, not one mark false or withheld.  It moves like the river, swiftly yet dark within depths.

Rodmell to Southease—a short drift.  Downstream the course advances to Piddinghoe and through Newhaven before emptying into the Channel.  Strong sea currents govern the estuary.  Surges reach far inland.

Leonard Woolf putters in the early spring garden.  His wife out on a walk, calmer than yesterday, danger perhaps allayed.

Geologists say the valley was, one day again will be, entirely tidal wetlands.  The Ouse.  Onomatopoetic, from an early sound for water.


About the Author:

Richard Baldasty’s poetry and short prose have appeared in Pinyon, Epoch, and New Delta Review among other literary magazines. Work archived online includes publication in Raving Dove, AntipodeanSF, Feile-Festa, Café Irreal, and Marco Polo Literary Arts; Twitter verse at escarp and Twitter fiction at Seven by Twenty. His day job is garden design and maintenance in Seattle and Spokane. He also makes literary collages; recent work is represented in Third Wednesday and Fickle Muses.