Eating Spicebush Berries

It’s strange to know the title
Before the title appears. Receiving—

Researchers at the University of
Virginia report that most reincarnations
Occur within five hundred kilometers
Of the avatar’s death. Prior memories
Typically dissolve by age six:
Cobwebs. Distractions. Sunlight.

Potomac, I have known your silty
Banks for how long? From before—

Gabardine green. I carried a girl frog-
Like on my back across the river, her
Garland arms choking me as I swam.
Cautious of unseen rocks, I felt the wet
Nylon of her swimsuit billowy against
My skin, warm as blood-rich placenta.

Crossing the bridge I think of Hart Crane,
Of droughted riverbeds stretching fishless—

Of the crayfish husks discarded by raccoons,
The glimmering kiss of skipping stones
And the odor left on the fingertips, widening
Ripples where an Appalachian sky washes
The gritty scent amongst the leaves, the love-
Soaked branches, the submerged roots of

Sighing grasses with names I have known
Yet forgotten again, and again once more—

Only to step onto the C&O canal trail
On an October morning into another
Silence, the sacred birth of experience.
This is not uncommon! Do you see me
In the cathedraled alley? We approach
Beneath the hickories, sumptuous with

Shadows. How strange, remaining strangers
All this while, recognizing this intention—

But no more. She says, “I was always
Told all red berries are poisonous.”
I was too, encircled by five fluttering
Grandmothers, insistent that children never
Die, that the blue hard candy in the white
China dish was for display purposes only, and

Once, slippery as a trout, a piece lodged in my
Throat. Screaming, shaking me by my ankles—

I lived, didn’t I? Swimming across the river and
Back, carrying the frog-girl, buoyed by the
Belief I’d outlast the wandering thalweg,
Eating red berries that taste of men’s cologne
And grapefruit rind. Alive, alive, alive! Repeat
A word so many times and it surrenders all

Definition, shapelessly transmuted into the dark,
Round seed wombed within the crimson berry—

Mantras that sound like home, home, home
Perhaps some day recalling where we’re from.