Time is an Enormous Long River

Trevor Tingle

“That whole idea of decade packages, things don’t happen that way …
packaging of time is a journalistic convenience …” –Utah Phillips

But time has always segmented itself
leaving maps of its own passing.
Maps in tree rings
and ice cores,
carbon footprints
and layers upon layers of earth.
We do not distort nature, we imitate it.
Dissecting our world by decades
has become a coping strategy
as our lives speed up and crash into each other
like atoms sinking in the daily sun.
And while it’s true that time flies,
its also true that time distends
like a wave of light or sound,
a cosmic squeeze box
we must wade through.
We remember this morning
like it were yesterday
and wonder about our bodies;
if we donate them to science,
when they cut into us,
sampling the heel or ball of our foot,
could they learn to read
the good years from the bad?

Author’s Commentary: Both the title and the epigraph come from the first track on the Utah Phillips and Ani Difranco album, "The Past Didn't Go Any Where." As a teenager, I was offended by how we organized time cyclically. Not just the clock, but the days of the week and the months in the year. I felt that we learn, grow, and change and that the endless repetition in some way stifled that. When I heard Mr. Phillips' monologue, I was heartened by how he expressed a similar sentiment. But as I grew older, I came to appreciate how these cycles were reflected in nature and that they were essentially just an organizational tool and not as significant as I had once made out. I listened to the album, several years ago now, and realized I no longer agreed with Mr. Phillips and my younger self. This poem came, all at once, as a response. Although I have tweaked a few details, this is one of those poems that came pretty easy and has existed in more or less the same form since it was first conceived. Utah Phillips seems like a reasonable and playful man and I'd like to think that if he were alive today he would appreciate the response and the form it came in. Even if I don't agree with his ideas as much as I once did, he had a strong and positive impact on my life and my thinking.

Trevor Tingle dropped out of high school to hitchhike and hop trains, eventually becoming a tall ship sailor and a Mississippi River crew boat captain. He now lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two children. A finalist in the Tennessee Williams poetry contest and nominated for a Pushcart, his work can be found in Slipstream, Phantom Drift, and The Tule Review, among others.