My father, the mountain man. He had a beard for birds to nest in and log legs to hold him up. He made puttees out of duct tape and socks. He wore flannel shirts and short shorts. Once he dealt with two punctures of two separate tyres on one day. Another time he fixed everything with a mouth full of swearing. His hair was a lion’s ruff. This
father taught me to cross a river in a hot summer of a childhood or two. In summer hypothermia walks a little slower, bends at the knees creaking and moaning. The river is still wide and full and going and lifts your feet off its floor. This river is cheeky rather than determined, a trickster instead of the boa constrictor in your bed. You can laugh when you are uprooted. You swim out the bend
and run back up to where you started. With each foot placed there is a rush of water leaping off you. You are new and laughing. You are laughing. You go alone with a stick to push against the current with. You go together holding waistbands or tied together with packs. One of you floats up but can stand again. You know the order and placement of strength to weakness. Top, second, middle,
middle, bottom. If you are the littlest you float between in the deepest parts. If you are the strongest you are bracing either side of you. If you are swept away the father tells you ‘Feet First!’ You practice in a rubber ring, an inner tube. You lift your butt out going over the shallows to avoid gravel rash. You squeeze the inner tube with your hands and smell the hot, wet rubber. Then you try it by
yourself. You, little fish, wrapped yourself around his back. He would wade through the water with you floating behind him. He would help you dive into the swimming hole, or throw you from his arms. He would hold the current back for you. In the polaroid you are in a red swimsuit you are leaning into his neck, hiding from the camera. He has his arm around you, his ruff ready and is smiling into the sun.