9.6 Miles in September

On the last Saturday

of my 40s, I drive alone

to Fish Creek to take

the Sunset Bike Trail

at Peninsula State Park.

It occurs to me

as I review the map,

then fold it into small rectangles

and put it into my back pocket,

that if I live to be 96,

it’s a decade per mile.

Miles 1 and 2 are gone faster

than I can remark, tall grasses

and small dense trees huddle

on either side,

mud on the trail

from the rains I never saw

pulls me sideways,

and I can’t see much at all;

But all along

Miles 3 and 4,

Lake Michigan

opens up on my left,

hurling itself

over and over

in small tantrums against

the worn rocks and pebbles,

the bottle caps and driftwood,

while on my right the sunlight is

shredded through the branches and leaves

of the still green trees

and it falls and falls and falls

in smaller and smaller and smaller

pieces

to land

on the forest floor,

shards of light that you can barely

see at all.

[Interim poem:

Hark!

Lake on my left and

Woods on my right,

they shuffle their feet

and finally ask sincerely

which shall have a place with me

in Heaven,

but I cannot choose,

I can’t abide a Heaven

that doesn’t contain them

both, it’s a failure

of my imagination, I suppose, but

tales of

Streets of Gold

and Milk and Honey

and never-ending Light

and the unfailing singing of Sincere Hymns

bore me to tears and truly,

terrify me.

I can only hope

all that was figurative, Paul,

(was it even Paul?

Maybe it was John,

he seems more like the

apocalyptic dreamer and

a bit of a kill-joy)

because I don’t want a

Heaven without this green glade,

without these smooth pebbles

passed back and forth

between the hands

of the splashing waves

in the cold, clean water

along Lake Michigan’s

shore, I don’t want a

Hereafter

without guitars

and bikes and dirt trails

strung with shining cobwebs

and trees that have toppled and

pulled up the roots and boulders to

show what hides in the dark

Earth,

I can’t see a

Paradise

that doesn’t have

a pitch black lake of midnight moonless sky

harboring a loosely moored fleet of stars

that sail into dreams,

no, I don’t see that

at all.

Here ends

the reading of

the interim poem. Selah.]

Mile 5

cuts suddenly through

a park,

children on a seesaw,

children like ducklings

that are quacked over, buckled,

brought in line

but I am

veering away from the lake

and into uncharted

territory, I have a map

but it doesn’t show these hills

as the lake falls away behind me,

it can’t predict this

slow grind until I’m

standing on my pedals

and just waiting for

a plateau

to catch my breath

before the next rise

but still and all,

as Miles Six, Seven, Eight

unfold,

it’s uphill and beautiful

in the shade of the afternoon,

the far-away sky

is the surface of an unmapped lake,

the long smooth trunks of the trees

holding up their leaves

like an offering

of lily-pads,

this congregation of trees

swaying in the current

like seaweed

while I swim slowly through them

like a fish,

silent –

the road

uphill and beautiful,

the road

uphill and beautiful,

rising

upward to the light.

Eye of the Day

One common tern

hovers

high above Lake Michigan,

then dives

under the waves and back

again,

its path a ragged stitch

from

sky purpling like a bruise

into

water smooth as a mirror,

and

then back to sky again,

pulling

together heaven and earth

like

the closing of a weary

eye.

At The Mellen Township Board Meeting

It’s the melancholy tail end of summer,

a Wednesday night with waning light

when I walk into the basement meeting room of the fire department

on County Road 342.

It smells like 50 years of bureaucracy and a musty bathroom

and my claustrophobia tells me there is only one exit

but I sign my name with the pen of the man in line behind me

who’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt

and sit in one of the 18 metal folding chairs

while the clock ticks toward six.

The board, three women and two men,

(one with white hair under his Air Force baseball cap)

approves the last meeting minutes, discusses bills to be paid, and then

opens the floor for public comment

on the mine corporation’s proposal

to trade grant writing services

for an irrevocable promise

never to oppose the mine,

a gaping hole waiting for cyanide and sulfide

to distill particles of gold, silver, zinc

100 feet from the river.

One by one, they speak:

The grandmother who speaks of her grandchildren,

the volunteer fire fighter,

the Menominee sisters who speak of breastfeeding from the earth,

the man from Flint who speaks of broken promises and bottled water.

I speak too, not just of lost beauty but what I hope is

their language:

tourism dollars, lost property taxes, lost opportunity.

I don’t live in Mellen township, but my heart is here on the river, I say, finally.

I hear the end of my sentence turn up at the end,

and stop.

Sandy, Fran, Bonnie, Holly, Tom sit stone faced, listening.

And then when we are all finally done, they say:

We live here, too.  We represent you.  We don’t want this mine. We have grandchildren.

We told the mine “no.”

And we all applaud.

Giddy from relief, we all stay for the rest of the meeting:

The fire department reports two water rescues on the river, accidents on Highway 41,

EMS services at the fair.

The Park is up next:

The Special Olympics is using the bocce court for practice.

Someone dumped recliners but after Tom posted a $100 reward for violators (out of his own pocket) in the paper, they were taken away.

The park needs more mulch – the kind that’s finely ground.  There’s a low spot in the yard.  Terry has a Bobcat, he can fill it in this fall and spread some grass seed.

The push lawnmower died and they bought a new one at Paidl’s Hardware.

Everyone nods.

It’s 6:55.  They call it.

We walk into the parking lot in the golden evening,

thinly spread across the fields and wilds behind the fire department,

the Wallace Pub where Judy cracks another Bush light for Rick,

the ruins of the church on the corner,

Gary’s grocery store.

There are men in DC who see only things you can buy or sell,

who would treat with contempt this gathering.

But this night I saw in this world

that is slowly ripping apart at the seams

people who are holding carefully

some borrowed needle and thread,

stitching together what they can,

and that was enough.

Interstitial

Five-thirty’s

afternoon light

fades from

the Menominee

where this

water bug

zig-zags

northward

over the glassy

sturgeon-black

surface

of the river;

a needle

pulling

threads

of silver-speckled

sunlight

together,

close

as lovers,

stitching

a narrow pocket

into which

I slip

secretly

the ruins

of another

unmatched

summer’s

day.

NPR Asked for Summer Haiku

I.  Shady Lane

barefoot at twilight

we play Ghosts in the Graveyard

vanishing in dark

 

II.  Rook

cards slap on the porch

after-dinner Manhattans

kids drunk with freedom

 

III. Beckoning

June is ever-dusk

fireflies wink in gangly grass

as I pedal home

 

 

Crivitz Piggly Wiggly Philosophy

It’s a Thursday in May after five

when I swing into the Piggly Wiggly with two bikes

on the back of my SUV, and the dog inside;

The woman slicing my deli ham

struggles with the wrapper on the summer sausage, limps like

her hip is bad, too; she paces, trapped behind the glass cage;

When I check out, another woman

bagging my groceries eyes me and when I say “Everything in paper except for

the cold stuff,” she rephrases:

“Cold stuff in plastic, everything else in paper,”

which is what I said, but in reverse, and she seems disapproving, so then I hedge –

“Well, whatever makes sense.”

And she says “All right, as much as anything

makes sense any more” which seems a bit dark but also somehow

appropriate, and then referring to my copy of Vanity Fair

tells the checkout girl that the big Royal Wedding

is this Saturday and that the bride is 36 and who even knows if she can HAVE

kids, she’s been married before you know;

The checkout girl who is maybe mid-thirties

yawns and asks me if I know that I selected some organic bananas, I say yes,

I want them tomorrow and they were the only ripe ones,

and then she also clucks disapprovingly, either sorry

that they did not have non-organic ripe bananas to offer me or maybe sorry

that I am the type of person who cannot wait for bananas to ripen;

Outside the old man with a service dog

who looks like a floor mop and would do a credible job at it

asks me where I’m from, and I say where,

and he says that traffic in Green Bay

is terrible, he knows because he goes to church down there every Sunday,

taking his life in his hands, practically,

I say “Ah, the roundabouts,” knowingly, but he says no,

the drivers down there are terrible tailgaters, all in a hurry, and for what?

And peering in as I put away the iced tea and bottles of water

asks me what kind of dog I have, growling in the back seat

at his mop, and I say, and add,”He’s not really friendly,” and then

he too is disappointed, and calls to the friendly dog Brice or Bryce

and they amble off into the spring green grass, where

Bryce or Brice dutifully poops; but after the man goes to find a baggie,

he can’t find where the tiny poop is and when I leave

he is still walking in a circle, searching for the pile. But what I

am thinking about is how I’ve disappointed them all, and the way the woman

put my turnovers at the bottom of the paper bag and said,

“as much as anything makes sense anymore,” maybe referring to

lava breaking through the crust of the earth or the president of the USA

paying hush money to a woman they call Stormy,

or more likely something to do with her children, who don’t call,

or Piggly Wiggly’s schedule for the weekend,

rather than heroin leaving a wide path of destruction across the American cornfields,

and meanwhile I, privileged and having all advantages,

unfairly, undeservedly, drive with a dog and bikes

and cheese and chips to a place where the sun makes a wide and slow arc over the river,

shooting sunlight like glass marbles down the its path

and the sky turns the clouds pink, lavender, yellow, by turn

and a silver fish flashes in the shallows and then darts like guilt into the deep

and I turn to ascend the stairs, going up, and up, and up.

22 Years Later

I.

On the way up to the lake house,

the back of the vehicle jammed

with things of this earth:

snacks, casseroles, a snowboard,

three pairs of snow pants, a snow shovel for the ice rink,

skates, sleeping bags, water,

wine –

and after passing barn upon barn,

acre upon acre

of crumbling stone and faded red paint

in the deepening twilight,

Suamico to Pulaski to Gillet to Suring

we pass one of the new kind of barns

that look like a huge tent, a cylinder on its side,

shaved off at the bottom so it doesn’t

roll away across the fields, bouncing

across the Midwest,

filled with nothing but light, as though if

pierced by telephone poles or church steeples

the light from the inside would wind

into the black frigid night like smoke,

bright swirling ropes

to tether the stars.

II.

I don’t pretend to understand that light

is a particle and a wave, a thing and an action

but the I know that barn is a belly,

pregnant with light

in the winter blackness –

though I carry this body forward, onward,

nearing fifty years on the planet but now

there will be no more copies of me, just those

already out in the world,

and in this vehicle hurtling across the frozen ground,

and those in the ground;

I once heard that some languages have no way

to express what could have been – it is or it is not,

it happened or it did not,

but even without words I know those mothers

with children lost think about

their may-have-been faces and their

could-have-been dreams,

and what it would be like to embrace them some day

when they would come home for Thanksgiving,

stamping their feet on the rug

to shake off the snow, someone shy

waiting behind,

and I know they also wonder

what would become of those

that would not have been.

III.

On the drive home with leftovers, unfolded clothes,

and wet boots thrown carelessly into the back –

without wine but with added memories and bruises,

snow comes down in slanting sheets:

Townsend, Lakewood, Crivitz,

so that there is no road ahead at all,

only the headlights catching a

conical cross-section of light

in the starless night,

particle or wave, thing or action,

its job is the same –

my middle almost-driving son

sits buckled next to me while I feign complete calm

as oncoming snowplows obliterate the windshield,

and the edge of the road pulls at my tires;

he selects music

and hands me the coffee from

the gas station, a beacon of swirling white light

along the highway far behind us already –

this son who may not even have been at all,

had Jacob lived, he is my version of Seth

after Abel was killed by Cain, though

Jacob never cried out

at all.

Can a person be

replaced? It’s ridiculous to even say,

but as far as I can tell,

there is no diminution of light

unlike the red paint fading and cracking and peeling

on the barns I cannot see –

whether particle or wave it

persists – and though I was pierced once,

the light, escaping,

doubled,

then tripled,

and I just didn’t see,

couldn’t see,

cannot yet see

where some of it

waits

for me.

Wee Thing

While waiting for the Percoset to kick in,

and the Spinal to bid goodbye, (thus far

I can tense the muscles in my right thigh, only), so

I can walk, and pee, and get home,

and while trying to breathe out in a hiss through the cramping of my missing womb,

(though to be clear I will not miss it, its job is long-done and unsavory characters

have taken up there, wreaking havoc and driving down property values),

one of the passel of nurses that pokes and squeezes and measures me

comes in and says:

Ach, she’s only a wee thing” with her Scottish brogue

and this makes me love her, since I am not wee by a long shot –

short, I’ll give her that, but built much like a fire hydrant

in the late 60s;

I want her to stay and ask her, as the drugs wend their way

from the magical portal in my arm to my very core (which is contracting

around its stolen goods as if to bring them back),

what part of Scotland she’s from, and tell her that

I’ve been to Arbroath, of all places,

in 1990, and saw Nessie in the loch at Inverness,

that I illegally jumped a wrought iron fence after hours to

explore Glasgow’s Necropolis,

sat in tiny living rooms in Dumbarton

belonging to grandmothers other than mine

who served tiny cups of tea

and sugared, crumbly biscuits from tiny kitchens,

that I posed with a Highland cow, drank too much in clubs

and instead of a boy, fell in love with Uig, and the Isle of Skye, with its moody

broad flat sea shining in the evening light

and with its rolling hills that rose up on their elbows

just a little,

enough to be interesting but not arduous,

and then settled there to forever watch the slanting golden hue

slowly abandon the summer sky,

light that lingered much longer

than we dared dream.

Drifting

Either it comes to you

Or you go to it; nevertheless

You meet.

Highway 139 weaves southward

after your day of skiing;

a newly teenaged girl watches a screen in the back,

playing a movie meant for her younger self –

the older brother left behind at the friends’ cabin,

the eldest sister in a faraway city – the husband, somewhere

out on thinning ice; you the mother drive,

guitars over the radio, melancholy.

Pines along the road lined up as though to march,

perfectly still in parallel rows –

their branches just holding the light they’ve gathered,

protecting it from the flood of darkness

creeping ever upward;

They’ve picked up all the dropped bits

of stray light this afternoon and it drips

from their frayed fingertips into the shadowed evening that is

pooling around their thick ankles, knees, thighs;

(in the field across the wet highway

half a silo stands in the melting snow,

its top half lit up by the failing sun –

a cigarette half smoked, throwing

light like ash back into the field

without a second thought.)

In those pines

the bundles of light writhe and shift

and rise into the very top of the earth-bound trees

that can’t hold on, that won’t let go until they must

And then finally

without any cry at all they release

the light into a pale blue twilight,

branches deepening into purple and finally it’s only

Strands of wispy white cloud

combed lightly across the broad sky –

as a child after a long day and a bath,

as a man at the dinner table, smoothing his hair while he reads the paper,

as a woman in a casket, only now still –

The light will come around again

the next morning, and the next, it will again be gathered,

and settled around the trunks of the pines –

it will reach to be picked up,

and piece by piece it will be so,

by different pines,

only to be sent into the same dimming

sky.