The Creek

A poem by Jessie Mazur


In a town where a roof could cost a third job by next month
and the grocery bill is too high for a family
the only home you can count on has a floor of rock and silt.
Where your toes sink in
and cold, cold water washes away the insanity.

For a moment you can catch your breath

inhale the sweet decay of wet leaves
the sharp perfume of pine
let the sun’s warm fingers stretch down your skin.
Smell the salt from your sweat
hear the slap of a trout.
Like a flower, your heart lifts
when you catch that first whiff
of rich, gritty dirt.

In that moment you know.
I know.
I can never leave this land.

I came here as a child from a waning West Coast dream
it was happening then, back in 2003
with the world wide web, we could do anything.
We fell in love with a town, our friends called us crazy,
but we packed up our camper and set our sights on Montana.

Before Costco and Cabelas
Before the bypass and apartments
Before Walgreens blocked the river
Before the storage units and APARTMENTS
When there was one place to get coffee
and Casey’s was a dive
When you wanted to make varsity just to be on a Bulldog sign.

The tourists, they tell me they’ve never seen so much space.
It rekindles my pride and terrifies me too.
They think this is space?
Where golden glowing wheat fields once rolled into peaks
my commute is now marred with developments, 
dealerships and shiny clean Teslas.
Every new building a visual heartache
and I crave ever more
the cold, cold creek…

…where my daughter learned to swim
and my dog learned to fish.
We nickname the cross-hatches and tie new flies.
I collect juniper and onion for my Thanksgiving brine.
Where the worst that can happen getting caught in the rain
is a watered-down beer
Can I blame them for wanting the same?

“Does it ever get old?” the visitor asked.
We sat on the dock under pinkening skies;
They flew two thousand miles for a concert and sunrise
I walked 400 feet and had a backstage pass.
“No,” I said.
“You get more invested instead.”

It takes time
twenty years give or take
to appreciate her infinite grace.
You learn her predators first
how to talk to a bear
you bond over berries too thick not to share.
Each season brings gifts – fruits, flowers and meats
the game is fair but the court is steep.
You learn to take what you need and no more
how to find shelter on a soft forest floor.
Catch a fish so stunning it flops away while you’re gawking
and you’re not even mad because you get to keep fishing.
You learn all her moods from hail storms to fires
and understand over time, none of it is random.
The rewards come much later when out of the ash
a green blanket of saplings stretch eager branches.

If you study her long enough
you’ll have the freedom I have
to forage through mountain ranges not built for man.

Every night I come home
and the stars are still bright
the train whistle howls like a string on a bow
when it’s quiet enough
you can hear your own bliss.

I’ll never leave.
Where would I go?
With untouched spaces that know me so well.



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