First, know that you know nothing,
and you’ll continue to know
nothing into the infinite future.
That small furry baby’s head
of a reed going to seed along the shore
signifies everything you don’t know,
and that cry? It’s your own cry,
so let it roll out of your throat
and into the world, where it
will find a home on hawk wings
and at the tips of pine needles.
Second, flow with this river
even though it’s colder than ice,
even though it’s more dangerous
than anything you’ve ever done.
Keep your feet up, over the
smooth rocks and pointed downstream,
because that’s the only hope
you’ll have of surviving.
Finally, know that you won’t arrive.
This water goes forever,
past spruces with eagles’ nests and
beneath skies that alternate
dark and brilliant.
All along you’ll be thinking
you must almost be there,
but you won’t be.
You’ll still be floating,
still trying to avoid getting
tangled in roots and drawn
under boulders, still riding
white waves and discovering
quiet pools, and there’s no
way of stopping, no end
except an ocean that will,
finally, draw you into
its broad, loving arms.
Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She’s also the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books).