The River Why

I’ve been working my way slowly through The River Why by David James Duncan this month.   Duncan wrote my favorite novel, The Brothers K, and while The River Why hasn’t yet gripped me in quite the same way, I read a chapter this afternoon that spoke to places in me that are fearful and hurting.

The section I read today felt akin to the dream that Kincaid has in The Brothers K.  Both, to me, feel equally apophatic and cataphatic in their respective renderings of God and this one offered new language and new imagery for me to consider this weekend.

Here’s a brief portion of the chapter — The main character, Gus, is having a conversation with his younger, 7-year-old brother, Bill Bob, about Bill Bob’s cosmology and understanding of the world and how it all works.  Gus is starting to come around to Bill Bob’s ideas and is pressing him for specifics.

“…how can this fancy Queen of yours and this horse of hers be in all the corresponding umpteen-quintillion places in the Garden World at once?  Huh?  Answer me that!

Far from impressed, farther from dismayed, Bill Bob eyed me with the sleepy exasperation you might see on the face of someone whose cat wanted in or out for the tenth time that day and had roused him from a snooze with obnoxious meows.  He said, “Dummy.  The Queen is everywhere, always, all at once.”

“That’s impossible.”

He shook his head, sighed, and patiently explained: “Gus, you don’t understand how beautiful she is.  There’s no way I can say it.  Even sunlight covers half the world all the time, burning through thick clouds, making it light underneath.  And it don’t compare to Queenlight.  Sunlight shines on things.  Queenlight shines through things–through everything.  It’s everywhere at once, and everywhere it is the Queen is. . . .” He paused, leaned toward me again and said, “The Queen is right here, right now!”

After more discussion Bill Bob falls asleep and Gus continues to ponder what his brother had said…


I stayed on, … lost in the lost in the labyrinth of shimmering images his Garden World had inspired: I saw loggers felling towering firs in our mountain forest while in Garden mountain forests Angel-loggers gaped as the trees they cut exploded, before they fell, into blinding pillars of light; I saw salmon and steelhead caught and killed in our rivers while in Garden rivers Angel-anglers watched their catch suddenly burst and blaze away to nothing in their hands…
And I saw that to die here was to begin to live there,
which meant we never died,
which meant there was nothing anywhere
to be very much afraid of.

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