04 January 2015

Bathtub on the Mississippi

Now and again I see Mr. Twain,
white-haired and white-suited,
pipe in hand, twinkly eyes,
like someone else’s grand dad
that I secretly wish were mine.
We float down the Muddy,
a clawfoot tub our raft,
chased by Huck’s dad
who chucks bottles at us as he drains them.
Mr. Twain never flinches while
I row, my arms aching.  I dodge and duck, each bottle
mere fractions of an inch from clocking me.
Somehow the bottles are filled with rolled paper
messages, I think, I hope, some paramount
lesson that I must read, learn, remember.
But when let go of the oars, uncork the bottles,
and  unroll the papers, the ink
is smeared, wet from the river.
I can’t read a single letter.
Mr. Twain beams at the river like a father.
I realize abruptly that I’m sunburned and
homesick, and we’re quickly being sucked into
the churn of a steamboat.
Huck’s dad has long since rowed for shore,
his canoe vanishing in the reeds.  I look
at Mr. Twain, and our oars have disappeared,
chewed up in the turning cylinder of paddles from the
steamboat, which grows larger, louder.
We’re sprayed with water, the bathtub
is sinking.  Mr. Twain, though, is his
characteristic calm,
observing the situation and
smacking his pipe.  I’m drenched
and about to be pulled under,
the churning water is deafening.
Mr. Twain puffs again, the pipe still
miraculously lit.  “You don’t expect me
to save you, now?”  And I’m
submerged, my lungs imploding
from the pressure of the water until
somehow, I surface and gasp, inhale –
I’m on the couch, my hair damp and river-smelly,
an open book on my heaving
chest, Tom, Becky, and Injun Joe racing into
the cave.  I sniff, catching the faint scent
of pipe smoke in the air.

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