“Would That Be Heaven?”

At the Creek

by David Romtvedt

I go to the creek with my daughter.
We squat at the water’s edge
and look around.  Some pebbles,
a few sticks, a cottonwood leaf.
With these we make a tiny world
in which nothing moves.

Would that be heaven then
where all things come to rest?

It’s as if I stand
once again by my desk
on the first day of school
and the teacher calls my name,
and I say, “here.”

She looks up and smiles
at me and I at her.  “Here,”
I say again, “here.”

Reprinted by permission of the poet.

Most of us remember our teachers taking attendance in school, the way we’d call out “Present” and “Here,” whether we felt fully awake yet or not. David Romtvedt, a writer of tender and deeply mindful poems, recreates one of these moments in “At the Creek,” flashing back to his very “first day of school,” when he stood by his desk and with that single word—here—entered a new period of learning during his young life. The poem begins, however, with father and daughter as they “squat at the water’s edge,” doing nothing but looking around at the plainer things of nature—”Some pebbles,/a few sticks, a cottonwood leaf.” And yet with these, they manage to create “a tiny world” separate from the often crowded, noisy, tech-driven world that many of us inhabit daily, both minds and bodies moving at unnatural speeds that leave us drained and exhausted.

Romtvedt goes on to ask the question, “Would that be heaven then/where all things come to rest?” Yet he seems already to know the answer to this is a resounding yes. The poem’s gentle, careful touch, like that of a father leading his daughter by the hand through the woods, offers an unexpected but welcome peace to us readers as these two crouch by the creek together. The poet’s question also makes me think of what St. Catherine of Siena once said: “All the way to heaven is heaven.” So often, we think of paradise as some place other than where we are, even though the most lasting versions of heaven on earth tend to be found in our own backyards, in our ordinary lives, when we pause long enough to say “here” and “here,” over and over, calling our attention back to the now.

So much feeling is contained in the poem’s final three lines, in the smiles that he and his daughter share, almost as if some secret has passed between them. Wouldn’t that be heaven too, to walk out in nature with a loved one and be made happy by nothing more than a few rocks, twigs, and leaves that we shape ourselves into a moment of stillness, allowing for such deep connection with each other and our world?

—James Crews

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