Poem: The River by Jen Elslip

The River

I have always been afraid
Of the water
When I was ten
My mom took me to the river
For the first time

I was never really okay with
Swimming away from the shore
Letting go of my last anchor
To the earth

And as soon as she told me
To put my head under
I’d panic
I didn’t want to submit my control
To something as unforgiving
As the water

Somebody once told me
That if you’re comfortable
You’ll go nowhere

As I grew up
I became comfortable
With staying away from the water
Letting it rush on without me
But now

I’ve been sitting on the riverbank
For too long
Watching the water go by
Watching time go by
Suspended in a moment
Occupied only by my mind

Wading waist-deep
In the river of time
I will strip off my clothes
Made from the harsh words
And labels society has seen fit
To make me wear

I will let it wash off
The lip stains that he left
On the freckles on my back
The ones he kissed when I turned away
Shyly when we laid in bed together

I will let it wear away
The now-invisible bruises
Left along my arms
My throat, my heart
From all the strong grips
The people in my life once had on me

I wonder
Will the river pull me along
Driftwood in its rushing path
To some new and exciting destination?
Or will it pull me under
Suffocating me with its inevitability?

I could easily just let myself fall victim
To the crushing current of the future
Too scared to see what might come along
Too stubborn to want to move on

The only way I’ll know is if I try
If I tread water, if I push forward
If I truly wish to survive
I must keep my head above the waves

Jen Elslip lives and works in California. Poetry and pastries take up her free time and provide her with sanity from her 9-5. She has been published in Nine Muses Poetry. More of her poetry can be found on Instagram: @j.elslip

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