Scarcely had the paddle dipped into the page
When the motion stopped, snagged, inexplicable,
In a chance remark inadvertently engaged
By other people’s sentences, and inextricable.
Now it will be hard to regain the voyageurs —
The guides who succeeded, the bold coureurs —
Already they are far downstream ahead;
Inured to distractions, wary of rapids and rock,
Steady in the coruscation and the currents of talk,
Long past such obstacles float the eloquent dead.
But in this blind chute, the swirl of debris
Wrenches words and cadences into the breach;
Foam and detritus accumulate in the lee;
And utterance runs in passages out of reach.
So stranded, there is no vista to praise,
No choice but to portage one’s salvation,
Lift the vessel out of broken cerebration,
And put in at the bottom of the phrase.
NOTES for Students of English
Portage – The carrying of a boat overland from one body of water to another; typically, paddlers of kayaks and canoes portage their crafts from one side of an impassible waterfall or other obstacle to a “put in” area of continued navigability.
Voyageurs – (Pronounced vwa-ya-ZHUR, “zh” is like the “z” in “azure,” from French “travelers”) Men in the 18th-century fur trade who transported people and goods by canoe to and from remote stations in the Northwest.
Coureurs – (Pronounced kou-RUR, from Canadian French coureurs de bois “woods runners”) French-Canadian trappers of the 17th century.