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The River

rolliní down through Council Bluffs

with the dark September night

a few frantic snowflakes run from my headlights

in a panic down the road

across the powerful Missouri Iíll go

followiní the Platte tí the west

Ďtil the Rockies raise their heads aní shoulders tí the sun

up against the river Iíll go

 

the growiní glow up over the bridge

is jusí the lights oí the place I was born

sprawled out on the ground like a carnival fallen down

Iíll be passiní through Omaha again

on a cold September night

in a hospital room full oí fear

I drew my first breath, as my eyes filled with light

I thought how did I ever get here

 

I got nothiní against Nebraska

itís a nice enough place tí pass through

but I got eighteen hours more oí road tí go

aní my eyes are like lead in my face

my Daddy swam in the river once

he said it was muddy and wide

but he ainít been the same fer quite awhile

not since my little brother died

 

when I get out on a river

I always wanna go upstream

it takes faith tí get tí where it begins

it ainít nothiní tí jusí drift tí the end

a long time ago people crossed the oceans

followiní desperate dreams tí this land

aní tossed little ships filled with eyes full oí fear

emptied out war on these shores

 

outlaws aní scoundrels aní latter day saints

washed up like waves on this sand

farmers aní ranchers aní soldiers aní slaves

all come over stormy oceans tí here

shopkeepers, thieves aní railroad men

carryiní fear aní hunger upstream

footprints oí women aní children aní men

in the mud on the river bank west

 

I seen a lake up north in Wisconsin once

with a river flowiní outa both ends

one flowiní north tí Lake Superior

one south tí the Mississippi

both oí them rivers end up in the ocean

most everythiní gets washed tí the sea

but the pure sweet water oí that little lake

ends up in the same place twice

 

I married a girl fer love, part Cherokee she was

aní we got us some bright pretty kids

we set the blood pumpiní free in their veins

like a river oí fergiven sin

the things people think are like a raginí river

it can tear ya up by yer roots

if ya go with the flow ya wonít be delivered

it Ďll wash ya right outa yerself

 

out on the road in this black bruisiní night

in a truck pointed outa this world

the snowflakes smash by like countless lost ghosts

without names on an uncaring wind

out over the river they dance with the moonlight

in the frenzy of an uncertain fate

fer a minute they glisten aní shine so bright

then they drown in the flow oí the flood

 

outa Ogallala jusí before dawn

I got the olí Ford all unwound

hellbent fer places deep in my dreams

ninety-five in a four-wheel drive

me aní my brother are laughiní aní talkiní

Ďbout fishiní aní huntiní aní women

Iím tryiní hard tí tell him Ďbout somethiní I feel

Iím so tired Iím asleep at the wheel

 

on a crisp clear morniní the river forks

aní I head up the one tí the south

Iím Denver bound aní torn up inside

Ďcause I canít follow the river both ways

sometimes a man gets caught in a dream

he fergot he once had fer himself

but whatís good in him makes him see it through

aní fight himself tí make it come true

 

in the traffic aní bustle oí mid afternoon

Denverís jusí like most cities I seen

sometimes thereís a brown cloud aní ya canít burn no wood

all the freeways are hell when it snows

she lays against mountains long stripped oí their trees

but thereís a difference in some people ya meet

some people come there jusí tí see other people

down from the mountains so empty aní cold

 

now Iím goiní uphill up past Red Rocks aní Tiny Town

but arouní Windy Point Iíll slow down

then through Aspen Park up past Conifer Mountain

itís out tí Park County Iíll go

I go easy down the grade on Crow Hill

aní in Bailey find the river again

the road follows the river past the Platte Canyon School

aní after Shawnee itís empty aní grand

 

now the aspenís so gold it glares in the sun

in between the straight aní tall pines

aní the riverís so cold ya think itíd freeze

as it falls through the rocks aní debris

aní what ground ya can see is so dry aní sandy

yer surprised that anythiní grows

aní thereís magpies aní squirrels aní if yer lucky an eagle

Ďr a coyote, Ďr mountain lion, Ďr elk

 

the river turns tí its source arouní Grant

but jusí a little bit higher Iíll go

aní right at the top oí Kenosha Pass

I pulled over tí the side oí the road

aní the snow came up like a blanket oí white

washed out everythiní in my sight

aní I knew that the mother oí the river was ice

that jusí melted aní ran down the hill

 

thereís a force that pulls the snow outa the sky

on tí rocks it holds up tí the sun

aní that pristine collisionís the way we begin

sparks aní shards oí jusí light aní ice

like children set danciní on a wind fer a moment

bound tí fall on the rocks below

sweet danciní children bound tí disappear

awash in some river oí fear

 

then the snow stopped falliní aní the sun was sinkiní

Iíd come tí the end oí the day

I thought I heard wailiní aní keeniní jusí then

aní I strained hard tí hear it again

then a storm like a hand from another world

fell outa nowhere aní blew everythiní down

layed the pine aní the aspen down flat tí the rocks

as far as my eyes could see

 

I walked down tí see what there was tí see

toward the night where the day had died

I seen a red westward river all full oí dead people

flowiní in aní outa every dead mouth

as I listened tí hear what might be heard

the host in the flood seemed tí speak

aní the river oí blood was jusí human words

"kill Ďem all aní let God sort Ďem out"

 

ya know I been up aní down the river

I seen the beginniní aní end

I even been swept down beneath the flood

but I jusí rose tí the surface again

there ainít no way tí stop its flow

the riverís gonna go where it goes

but once in Colorado I stepped outa the water

aní layed that burden down

 

me aní my lady went out fer a ride

on a soft Ohio summer day

jusí lookiní tí see what we could see

in Hardin County along the way

we turned up an olí gravel road by a bridge

on top an olí levee along the Scioto

pushed up by some good farmers years ago

tí keep the river outa the beans

 

the map showed the road straight through tí McGuffey

but it musta been an olí map

Ďcause the road jusí quit at the end oí the levee

Ďbout a mile or so outa town

ya could see houses out on the edge oí the fields

but yaíd hafta trample through the mud

maybe in the days when the levee was new

people went that way home fer the night

 

but the truth is I been tí McGuffey before

now thereís a highway that runs right through

aní I knew there was nothiní I hadnít seen there

so we jusí turned arouní aní moved on

 

T  M  Malo