I park my car beside a leaning fence
and walk through the woods to this rise
above the river where our sweathouse stood.
Gone now, dismantled when he died.
The frame he built of willow boughs,
blankets, burlap, all burned in one last fire,
the rock pit filled. A rusted dipper
hangs from an alder branch like an epitaph.
The pond steps washed downriver seasons ago.
Once, we crawled on hands and knees
into a warm and humid darkness.
He counted in Indian when he poured
our sweat rose, then ran
in rivulets down our bodies.
Even our breath grew hot.
Sometimes we talked, more often not.
We seldom needed words.
We rinsed in a pond dammed from the creek,
back and forth we went,
until the rocks grew cold
and our bodies glowed
like the embers in the dying fire.
Now I scrabble down the rock bank
to the river. I feel my way along
its moss slick bottom. Gray green
water embraces me like a long lost friend.
How blue the sky is.
—First appeared in T-Zero, 2004
Judith Kelly Quaempts lives and writes in eastern Oregon. Besides here, her work has been published in T-Zero, and Drunk and Lonely Men.