Poetry: When I Die You Don’t Have to Divert the River for Me by Barbara Mossberg

Sometimes it is nature that is able to portray our exact experience; “When I Die You Don’t Have to Divert the River for Me” by Barbara Mossberg reminds us the river can represent life and death – “Meanwhile the river is now on the other side of the meadow, but as I said, you don’t have to divert the river.”


When I Die You Don’t Have to Divert the River for Me

Fragments of an epic text found in Me-Turan (modern Tell Haddad) relate that at the end of his life Gilgamesh was buried under the river bed. The people of Uruk diverted the flow of the Euphrates passing Uruk for the purpose of burying the dead king within the river bed.


But it would be nice. The river I am thinking of is the Merced, of course, River of Mercy, flowing as if the vanity of earth, which loves rivers, is redeemed here–the rocks tell you everything–John Muir says they sing, they preach—this river I have lain beside and leaped into, or rather, hopped, on the gleaming gold-stuff in the sand, on an afternoon in Yosemite, by the chapel, and my father’s ashes in this stream, and my mother’s–and to get me underneath this river, so that it flows over me, you would have to enlist the moon to move closer, you could do that, it loves music, you could get someone to play the cello, and a flute, and it would come close, as it does when it thinks no one is watching—and the water would leap up like a trout, arc for the fly moon, and in that moment, you would have hampers, not for the water, but for the picnic for the people who have come to watch and say, cheerfully, “I love hard work, I could watch it for hours,” and they would be eating Julia Child’s train sandwiches, loaves with unsweetened butter and ham that have been sat on for the journey, and are now squashed, with gherkins, and raspberries smelling of soap, and some whiskey, the water would arch over the picnickers in a stream like a rainbow, you would get your team with shovels to quickly dig into the fools’ gold river bottom and its rocks, and make a little dent for my bones. Meanwhile the river is now on the other side of the meadow, but as I said, you don’t have to divert the river. It will spring back of its own accord, and will rush over my spirit alive again today in the trout’s freckles and the rock’s speckles and star matter.




Barbara Mossberg

Dr. Mossberg, Goddard College President Emerita, radio host of Poetry Slow Down (podcast BarbaraMossberg.com), Poet in Residence for Pacific Grove, CA (California Laureate), award-winning poet, professor, and scholar (Emily Dickinson: When A Writer is a Daughter was Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year), is Professor of Practice, Clark Honors College, University of Oregon, following serving as Dean, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Professor at California State University Monterey Bay, senior Fulbright lectureships, and a federal appointment as U.S. Scholar in Resident. She is dramaturg for New Umbrella at Oxford (UK) Playhouse, Carmel (CA)’s Cherry Center, and Off-Broadway’s 59E59. An actor and playwright, her performance “auto-brio-graphy” includes Flying with Emily Dickinson. Mossberg teaches and publishes on literature, including John Muir, Emerson, and Einstein as writers, epic, and “Revolutionary Imagination” abroad (Dublin, Oxford, London, and Paris). A worldwide speaker, her poetry is published widely including recently in New Millennium Writers, Tupelo Quarterly, Cider Press, and Finishing Line Press (Sometimes the Woman in the Mirror Is Not You, and other hopeful news postings).

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