Thirteen Ways of Looking at a River

“The woman in the red dress rushes downstream. Fish swim behind her teeth like small tongues. The pool of her red dress and the yellow stream of her hair become part of the river. Cell walls lose their integrity. Molecules intersect, exchange information and structure. Hydrogen atoms bond, two to every atom of oxygen. Reintegrated, the red dress joins the river, a secret memory, an invisible stain.

Using planetariums that can project a changing night sky, ornithologists have demonstrated that birds raised in laboratories and never exposed to the night sky are born with a memory of the stars that enables them to navigate the inevitable migratory path. The cerebella of birds is proportionately enormous, relative to that of humans.

The woman in the middle of the river will stand there forever. Wait. Thirst. Wait.

The Mourning Warbler builds its nest in the flat swamplands of the Otonabee River valley, never far away from the view of poison ivy or deadly nightshade. Its migratory path takes it over the Niagara Peninsula, and thence over Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico, until it reaches Ecuador, covering a distance of 2100 miles at night. The Mourning Warbler will not avoid any body of water that can be compassed in a single flight, including the 700 miles of the Gulf of Mexico. Some water birds making long voyages can rest on the waves if overtaken by storms, but for the luckless Warbler whose feathers become water-soaked, an ocean grave is inevitable.

On the day in 1992 when the man and the woman marry, parts of the body of the first victim are found in water, encased in concrete.”

This story first appeared in Descant, 123, Winter 2004 and in The Turkish Anthology of Canadian Literature – Beyond the 49th Parallel – – 49. Paralelin Ötesinde – Kanadah Yazarlardan Öyküler.