The River

I love Jonathan Potter’s poem, The River. When he posted himself reading a version of it awhile back, it really struck me. I listened to it several times, and that is when I ordered House Of Words from Amazon.

First line that struck me was “like bearings in fresh oil.” I don’t know why. I just loved the imagery’s tactile viscosity. I would love to stick my hands into an oil pan of bearings and fresh oil. I could go deeper into sacramental imagery, but I don’t feel like it here. I want to move down the river a bit.

The next line, and this is when it got emotional for me, “I need the river like that man needs that drink at the end of a long day.” This lit a fuse in my mind. Perhaps it was the sound of his no nonsense voice as he read, but these words were preaching empathy to me. I know that feeling. I became conscious of it a long time ago, and how drink offers us a respite from life’s troubles. I never did, but many people choose a river of alcohol rather than Jonathan’s river. But Jonathan’s river is much deeper and more powerful than the drink at the end of a long day.

After the drink line, the poem gets supernatural. You feel the power of the river now. You hear the river ghosts whispering directly into your soul. The words from this point forward were mystical and carried me into transcendent space outside of time. I felt the power of the river flow through me. And for a few minutes I knew that someone else on our planet “got it.” I was not alone, and there was Hope.

So many people walk the face of the earth unconscious, and unable to grasp the absolute beauty around them. I was troubled and unconscious the day I listened to Jonathan read his poem. The words woke me up, and reminded me of Christ and that I believe in Him. It reminded me of Beauty and that there is Truth. This Beauty is all around us and art awakens us to it.

Small though you may be keep striving to create your art. You never know the souls you touch or how God will awaken people through your work. I am not sure what Jonathan meant by his words. I suppose the River could be a metaphor for Christ. It was for me. It does not matter if that was Jonathan’s intention, what matters is that he captured transcendence. He captured a little bit of eternity. What a great gift to give, and I am grateful to him for striving to capture it. It is like receiving a small relic of the true cross. So never give up or be discouraged your work is sacred.


  1. Matthew Lickona says


  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Way to resonate Mr. POT-TEAR!

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    It is an excellent poem. The lines that really get me are: ‘I need the power of the river // to turn the turbines of my mind.’ What an original image. ‘Nature’ acts on technology, grace acts on nature.

    The video of Potter’s reading of the extended version of the poem, to which Cubeland Mystic refers, includes a wonderful bit about seeing a real moose — ‘not a cartoon moose’. I’ve watched the video only about twice, but that scene with the moose really sticks with me.

    Thanks for writing up this appreciation of a much-deserving poem, Mystic.

  4. Jonathan Potter says

    This is really encouraging, CM. Thanks. Here’s the text of the expanded version, which I think might resonate more for you than the version in the book. I sort of like both versions taken together — like snapshots of the same flower on different days. I’ve thought about continuing to expand it until it is literally as long as a river.

    The River

    I need the river,
    the way it carries the
    spring runoff in its arms
    like a mother,
    the way it glides like
    a roller blader, like
    bearings in fresh oil,
    like a drunken thought
    in the mind of a happy man.
    I need the river
    like that man needs that drink
    at the end of a long day.
    The river bends and blends
    in eddies and backwaters,
    slackwaters and rapids and glints,
    nudges and fingers and fists,
    velvetty nuzzles at sunset.

    In the shallows here, midstream,
    a moose looks over
    with drizzling muzzle
    and chewing cud,
    not a cartoon moose,
    but a shimmering hulk
    of bone and hide and antler,
    tendon and flesh and pulsing veins.
    So I carry myself on downstream
    and listen for
    crawdad-scuttle, tail-slap,
    frog-swish, fish-flutter,
    the swirls and swansongs,
    the killdeer and swallow
    that inhabit my waking dreams,
    the hinting whispers
    that speak at dawn.

    I need the river ghosts
    and the river spirits
    to whisper their secrets
    in my ears, to tell me
    the news from upstream,
    to silence the demons in my head,
    to show me the light that
    dances on the riverbed.
    The river makes of its rocks
    a mosaic unfurling,
    not an abstract but a concrete
    pattern that paints
    music on my eyes,
    and sings my pain: away.
    I need my pain and I
    need the river
    to sing it away.

    I need the power of the river
    to flow through my soul,
    to turn the turbines of my mind.
    I need to feel it and smell it
    and see it and hear it.
    I need to taste and see,
    taste and see, kneeling,
    my reflection, darkly.
    I need the river
    to carry my burdens,
    not like a mule or an ox
    or a train or a truck
    but like an angel descending,
    like an easement from on high,
    the power and the glory
    flowing to the sea
    where we all are destined to be.

    River, I call to thee.
    Make me one of your people, let me
    follow you down,
    Let me follow you downstream.

    • Cubeland Mystic says

      Thanks I will read later tonight.

      What I do know is on some day fifty years from now two old ladies will be standing in Potter’s Field who once lived with Jonathan Potter, and learned love and hope at his knee. They will read his words to each other, and to all those living and dead who stand with them in the field. Potter will be there with them at their sides once more, and the River will flow through them again just like it did when they played at his knee. Like the river, time will flow backward and forward, and then stop and swirl around them like the wind in Potter’s field. The eternal moment, captured, a gift from the river ghost.

      • Matthew Lickona says

        I used to wonder what people meant when they talked about things I wouldn’t be able to understand until I was older. “No, explain it now,” I thought to myself. “If it’s a thing, you have to be able to explain it.” But this would never have signified to me at 16. It signifies now.

      • Cubeland Mystic says


        Nice job on the Director’s Cut too.

        I need the power of the river
        to flow through my soul,
        to turn the turbines of my mind.
        I need to feel it and smell it
        and see it and hear it.
        I need to taste and see,
        taste and see, kneeling,
        my reflection, darkly.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Reading this flowing poem in a long, uninterrupted scroll down the computer screen adds a nice effect.

  5. “And for a few minutes I knew that someone else on our planet “got it.” I was not alone, and there was Hope.”


  6. Churchill says

    Jonathan, Don’t send her the book.

    • Jonathan Potter says

      If by “her” you mean the girl who broke my heart and ran off to New Jersey … no, I won’t.

  7. Jonathan Potter says

    Cubeland — By the way, this entry would make a nice four-star review on Amazon. You could be the first one to review House of Words there. Just sayin’.

  8. “Frog-swish, fish-flutter” makes me oh so happy.

    But…but… I want two needs here:

    I need the river ghosts,
    I need the river spirits…

    Sorry, I just had to say it. A beautiful poem, though. Perfect for a Thursday.

    Officiously yours,


  9. Jonathan Webb says

    This is the poem which inspired me to abandon my family, move the Cornwall and become a poet.

  10. Matthew Lickona says

    HG = Hunger Games?
    HG = Huge Grant?
    HG = Horace Greeley, noted abolitionist?
    HG = Yeah, I’m still stuck on Hunger Games. It’s in the air.

    I fear this is a test I shall fail.

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