Poetry  

Truth Telling

by Catherine Freeling

Catherine Freeling lives in Berkeley, California, where she enjoys taking long walks on many of the city’s 136 footpaths. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Poet Lore, and Rattle.

In his version the river had practically dried up.
No way, I said. I was there not long ago.
The river looked fine.
He took no notice,
as if he’d spoken the truth and the matter was done —
a habit that had never failed to annoy me
in our thirty-year marriage, which ended
almost two decades ago. As we talked, other guests
listened, among them our sons. Did they worry
we might not stay civil? That Fern Picnic Area
could become a war zone? My ex turned to the audience —
he always loved an audience. Sad-faced, he told them
the shrinking of the river was a very personal sorrow,
because he’d grown up on it, passed his childhood
along its banks. I thought, You bullshitter,
a phrase that had often occurred to me
when we were married. I recalled him pointing out
his childhood home whenever we’d driven through
that fancy neighborhood. What was it called?
He looked surprised when I said, Wasn’t your part of town
a long way from the river?
I swear I spoke
in a neutral tone, just a fellow party guest
asking a question. He waved a hand,
as if to erase my words. What I meant was the boat,
he said. The one I built when I was thirteen. From the kit
my parents gave me. When I finished the boat,
my life became the river.
I didn’t say a word.
Not, What boat? Not, You never had the patience
to build anything.
Because that’s when some small miracle
happened. Right there, in the shade
of a gnarled live oak, near our grandchild’s
birthday presents and cake, the thought occurred to me:
Between our different truths, his is the more beautiful.
And maybe there was a boat, and I forgot.

Personal. Political. Provocative. Ad-free. Subscribe today.