On July 16, 2014 four Palestinian boys were killed by missiles while playing on Gaza Beach. This is for them: Ismail Bahar, Ahed Bahar, Zacharia Bahar, and Muhammad Bahar.
You can tell sometimes if you listen real hard how long the freight trains are that rumble through the valley from the length of the rumble as they go along the tracks that follow the river, and in the night you can hear the highway trucks that follow the river also. There is always the sound of the traffic, sometimes soft on a Sunday morning when the truckers sleep or loud like thunder on a Thursday echoing into the hills on either side of the river. There was that time when the river flooded and the trains could not run because the water covered the tracks and the trucks couldn’t run because the highway was covered as well and up on the hill stranded without power, in the silence of the night I thought I could hear the sound of the river, the sound of the water, moving in the night through our valley on its way to the bay, and to the ocean. When it is time, I will go in the night to the shore of the river, ready to go to the place where the river enters the bay, and to where the bay enters the sea. Or I’ll wait by the tracks with my bag strapped tight for the westbound freight that comes in the night, to run along its side and then leap, grab and land upon it to ride with the wind in the dark. It is good to know that the river does not stop moving and it will be there when it is time to go downstream, and that the thunder of the trains through the valley will be there when I am ready.
The river spreads wide near the tracks and flows shallow, and in riverbed furrows the deep channels flow steady and strong always, and in the winter if the conditions are just right the shallow water of the river freezes and then thaws and beaks into chunks of all sizes and shapes, at all angles of position as they are moved by the motion of the flowing water beneath them. They gather across the span of the river and dam sections as they collect in heaping piles, shades of grey and white and blue and silver. The surface of the river is then faceted by these solid slabs of ice, and the fish that continue to live through the cold swim deep in the furrowed channels underneath.
In this valley the river flows from east to west and then takes a hard left to descend southward, where it is joined by the branch coming in from the west and together they gather their forces to twist and turn and then settle into the wide and powerful flow to the bay. It is easy to sit and stare at the river as it flows past, where all thoughts like bits of leaf or stick thrown into the water disappear in an instant in the flow. There is a line in the Isa Upanishad which says: “breath to air, and to the immortal”, which describes the joining of the self to the other as the spirit moves. In Benares by the Ganges there is a man who sits and looks at his flowing river as I do, and as our thoughts are swept away by the water they join each other in that movement. The same question is on his mind as is on mine, and the answer floats on the water, on the river that flows to the sea.
Several small and larger creeks flow down the slopes of the valley bringing water from the snows or the rains to empty into the river, and in those creeks there are fish that swim against the current, fighting the force of gravity and sheltering in eddying pools by the banks where limbs of trees have fallen by the creekside. Fishermen know they are there, and patiently drop their lines. There are also beaver who dam the creeks and create waterfalls and unnatural diversions in the flow. But the creeks like the rivers like the currents in the oceans never stop moving and never end, and even in the driest summers there are deep channels which trickle.
The water in the creek was cold, and squatting by the bank Guan-Yin’s hands were cupped to drink the icy liquid as the snow fell, tiny flakes softly moving in the wind. The Bodhisattva stood and looked into the woodspace and felt the presence of the deer. The hunters had dressed their
kill and left the carcass for the coyotes. The Bodhisattva put the body softly under a tree, covered it with rocks and brush, and in the sky through the trees in the snow falling by the hush of the creek, the hovering spirit of the deer took its angel flight.
There are times when the river changes colors like when it rains so much that the muddy pools which have lay still for weeks are suddenly disturbed by the turbulence of greater volumes that push the water further and faster to the west, and the river spreads to embrace the banks where sticks and logs and trunks of trees are ripped loose from the dirt and added to the volume of the ochre - colored river as it flows. Then it is dangerous to walk too near the banks, which have disappeared and are subject to sudden collapse which sweeps the clueless observer into the water to disappear, in the river whose strength has increased by fifty times its usual. There have been stories told of floating bodies found downstream ten to twenty miles from where the deceased was last seen walking by the riverbanks, little knowing that their feet had been seen by the spirits of the river who reached up from the flowing power of the muddy water to grab their ankles and pull them in.
The last leaves on the oaks are brown and rustling in the wind. The sky in early afternoon is grey behind the pattern of the branches in the air above the railroad tracks beside the creek. Light snow falls in swirling twirls like dancing yakshi in the clearing where the Bodhisattva is standing by the water as it flows with force toward the river. The smell of ice is on the air and Guan-Yin’s hands are cupped to drink, and so they do, to taste the essence of the world. Across the water the doe stares in silence at the Bodhisattva who sees her and remains as still as she. The eyes of one into the other are locked in unison of spirit in the snow, and the earth spins round the two forever.
The shallow water of the creek is cold, and moves swiftly over stones.
Guan-Yin floats in robes of jasper green where once a daughter of the Susquehanna soothed her sandaled feet in secret pools, and with ears submerged the Bodhisattva hears the endless sounds of crying children, in the tears of the entire earth.
There is a group of four children playing on the beach by the Mediterranean Sea, and under the blue sky free of clouds they kick a ball and shout. Four boys together, since their earliest memories of life have lived with the knowledge of the other, and have loved and lived together. Today is a day like any other as the summer sun shines brilliant and serene upon the beach and the four boys kick a ball on the sand and run to kick the ball again. There has been trouble and the beach may not be safe, but they play because they are children, and they have loved each other forever. The first shell hits the jetty and one dies, the others run. The second shell hits them and they too die. On Gaza Beach by the Mediterranean Sea, as they kicked the ball and shouted, as they loved each other since the day that each of them were born.
The river is dark and moves silently in the night, flowing softly from its source within the mountains to reach the bay that joins the river to the sea.