Rhythmic Breathing

First published in Contemporary Haibun Online 13:2, July 2017. Originally written in September of 1996 at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California (inspired by long-ago canoe trips in hinterland Manitoba), and revised in 1997 and 2000. The middle poem, written in January of 1992, also appeared in Modern Haiku 24:1 in 1993, in The Haiku Anthology (New York: Norton) in 1999, and in Wah 1:1, 2014 with a Punjabi translation.

                dense morning fog
                       paddles dripping, we drift
                       among loon calls

The canoe bumps a half-submerged log and she turns to glance at me. Gently I toss her the water bottle, and she slowly unscrews the top, tips it back, and swallows till drips run from her chin. I do a j-stroke on the right side of the canoe, and suddenly a bird we don’t see disappears under the surface in the duckweed at the bend. A red-winged blackbird sways on a cattail stalk, then rushes away as our boat drifts closer. She lowers the bottle, wipes her chin with the back of her hand, and reaches to steady her paddle lying across the bow. The fog seems to thicken and I wonder if we will see the bird come up from the shallows. I swing my paddle out of the water, a trailing weed drips in front of my knees, and I sink the paddle into the current, stroking on the left side.

                morning bird song—
                my paddle slips
                into its reflection

Soon we are both paddling again and, as our ripples reach the shore reeds, it seems the fog has thinned. Our palms are sore (“I think I’m getting a small blister,” she said an hour ago), but we paddle firmly and in unison. The portage at the falls lies a mile ahead where we’ll pull out for a lunch of apples and watercress sandwiches.

                our rhythmic breathing—
                between lily pads
                a motionless trout