of a star
on the dark glass
of the river
just before dawn
of a star
on the dark glass
of the river
just before dawn
On the way home
we pull off Highway 29
to get gas.
It’s been raining since
we left Minneapolis.
An Amish buggy
clip clip clips
into the auto parts store
across the road.
The horse doesn’t question,
just stands there,
Maybe they sell
tractor parts, too; or maybe
the man just wanted
out of the rain,
wanted to walk on the smooth, dry, floors,
wanted to walk up and down the shiny weedless furrows of
floor mats, motor oil, windshield wiper blades, headlights
stacked squarely in piles, shoulder to shoulder
on shelves, swinging slightly from the pegs
as he walks by, the headlights
briefly reflecting his dark form
like the shadow of a cloud
on a lake.
trails in the air just above
the perfectly machined boxes
before he pulls his hat low on his brow,
thinking about want and need,
thinking about his horse,
the hours since breakfast,
the nails in his shoes,
the blinders alongside his big brown eyes,
before he walks out past the girl
scrolling through nothing and everything
on the screen in her hand,
walks out past the bright orange
slow moving vehicle triangles,
walks out without buying anything at all,
into the driving rain.
ebbs and flows and
falls and falls and falls
on the crooked pine trees and the roof,
on the old swing set and the black driveway,
on the cold, wet burn barrel and the American flag
at the hundred year old house on Shady Lane
where my parents live
In the basement,
a dehumidifier pulls water from the sodden air,
dutifully filling and re-filling the pan.
Two sump pumps run full time,
a generator stands at the ready.
The water is carried by a snaking black hose
into the low-lying woods surrounding the house
and seeps back in again, later,
like a teenager after curfew, quiet,
up through the cracks in the cement basement floor.
The stone walls
press large boulders against the earth
like praying fists.
It’s never rained this much before
this time of year.
My mother, 72 years old,
raised by practical German and Norwegian folk
on the Minnesota plains,
already sleeps with one eye open to make sure my father,
six years older and soaked years before
by Vietnamese monsoons and Agent Orange,
isn’t swept away into the woods,
over his head.
She now sleeps with the other eye open, too,
straining to hear any absence of the motors,
then the other,
like twin chambers of the heart,
one ventricle pulling in the tired gray water,
one aorta pushing it out, clean and quick.
It’s hard to listen for, it’s hard to hear
And meanwhile the rain keeps falling
drop by drop,
drop by drop,
drop by drop
on the turning leaves,
on the feathery moss,
on the withered corn,
on the rivers already swollen,
already tired of carrying things away.
A pied-billed grebe
has already paddled madly
halfway across this cove
(its crested head sporting a half-hearted mohawk,
its body a sputtering vector moving toward the northwest,
Lake Superior swollen like a too-observant eye)
before I realize
that it has darted out from under this porch
that hangs over the water where I stand holding my coffee,
not wanting to go home.
It’s as though a magician
has produced an egg from my ear,
or I’ve rummaged in my purse looking for car keys
and I’ve found a room in my house
I didn’t know was there.
Somewhere, that grebe has
and chicks that have fledged and gone
by this late September Sunday,
and a worn and forlorn nest
patched together with empty reeds and sticks,
bits of plastic water bottles and lily pads,
feathers and hollow crayfish claws –
bobbing along the indifferent surface
of the lake, pulled north
by the false promises of the moon,
swamped by the wake of passing boats.
I wonder then,
my coffee grown cold in its paper cup,
only the fading ripples left on the lake,
what I may be capable of now,
what other secrets
I may harbor.
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,
opens up on my left,
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
on the forest floor,
shards of light that you can barely
see at all.
Lake on my left and
Woods on my right,
they shuffle their feet
and finally ask sincerely
which shall have a place with me
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
Streets of Gold
and Milk and Honey
and never-ending Light
and the unfailing singing of Sincere Hymns
bore me to tears and truly,
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
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
I can’t see a
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
the reading of
the interim poem. Selah.]
cuts suddenly through
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
to catch my breath
before the next rise
but still and all,
as Miles Six, Seven, Eight
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
this congregation of trees
swaying in the current
while I swim slowly through them
like a fish,
uphill and beautiful,
uphill and beautiful,
upward to the light.
Overcast skies cast over /
this lake, my unquiet mind /
the fish dart away /
An old house, these woods /
sunlight drips through leaky trees /
on the forest floor /
When I look over my shoulder
to change lanes on
the Leo Frigo bridge
high above the bay, I see her
reaching over to smooth his long hair –
my son’s girlfriend –
and it’s as though he’s been
cracked open and I’ve seen
his heart beating
for the first time.
It’s crowded, so
we park far
from the market grounds
this muggy August night
and we take our time on the
uneven sidewalks, overgrown by
late summer weeds.
Neighborhood kids on Big Wheels or bikes
circle elderly men on canes,
dodge parents carrying chairs and coolers
in the slowly fading light.
They walk behind me, holding hands –
her hands are cold, she says,
and holds them up to his heart.
The waffled orange plastic fence
runs between Titletown Brewery
and the Fox river that flows north,
parallel to the railroad tracks where
uneven piles of fresh gravel and asphalt wait patiently
for the future coming through –
we pick our way past the recycle bin
and a family struggling with a wagon.
I give my charges $10 and set them free.
On the periphery,
the hot air balloons groggily lift their outsize heads
as though waking from a late-afternoon nap
they don’t recall taking.
Their narrow necks fill with heartburn and fire and
soon a sentinel of them line the riverfront,
alternating light and dark against the purple sky.
Though it is late, I feel reckless –
I buy cold brew coffee
from a couple in a pull-behind trailer,
white trimmed in teal. Benjamin Brewer.
I pay $1 to pet a white puppy
from Lucky 7 Dog rescue.
I take a card.
I run into my cousin who’s just gotten a text from my aunt:
“We’re by the pole dancers.” Sure enough,
Her brother is wearing a hat
like one that I imagine Fitzgerald wore
to write about Daisy –
he punches out staccato poems on the spot
on an old typewriter
for young women in pairs,
for families with kids,
all standing in line and waiting for
His chalkboard signs says:
Poems. Any topic. While you wait. Pay whatever.
I wave at him and smile
but he is hunched over his work, and
I keep walking.
The hot air balloons
that have been taking Midwestern turns
lighting up, one after another,
slowly topple sideways,
wait to fold them,
tuck them onto trailers,
and drive them away in darkness.
I walk under the lights
strung over the picnic tables
to listen to the band all the way from Portland-
a marching band
drenched in New Orleans voodoo and
blended with Village People who do Cross Fit,
who make their own t-shirts,
who maybe practice polyamory.
They are jubilant,
they have trumpets, drums, a slide trombone,
I buy a t-shirt I don’t need.
My son and his girlfriend
and the music
and then grows again
as we walk backward through the vendors to the the exit
(“Everlasting Romance”! Henna! Goat Milk Soap!)
then back up the street.
Along the old Larsen cannery
under the streetlights,
weeds grow wild and tall
between the sidewalk and wall,
and I say they are impressive,
and she says she’s never heard weeds
described that way, and so I say
they are profligate,
You should write a poem about that,
my son says. But
I am not thinking
of adjectives for weeds,
I am picking my way
through the darkness and
watching the way that
people move about in their houses
lit by TVs and kitchen sink lights and soft table lamps –
I am thinking that
is a window lit
for a brief moment,
and that years and years from now
I will walk past it in the darkness
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
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,
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.
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.
Three generations of monarchs
unfurl their wings
right where they emerge,
to mate for hours while the world pitches and yaws,
dusk to dawn –
six weeks spent locked
in an off and on fluttering embrace,
drifting in circles of lazy lust
just along overgrown highways
of the driftless area
(Trempeleau, Pepin, Eau Claire)
in endless summer back yards where
the glaciers or fires came through
(Marinette, Peshtigo, Brule)
disheveled females breaking away
to secure tiny pearls of hope
to the flat green ears of milkweed plants
one at a time
until there are hundreds –
like beacons in the fog,
like solstice lanterns,
by which tiny winged boats are steered.
But the fourth generation wakes,
no note with directions
has been left on the kitchen table,
no family Bible with halting names of three generations scrawled –
they squint their eyes at the barely perceptible
narrowing angle of the sun,
they tilt their heads to listen
to the slight stuttering
of the milk running through the milkweed,
without thermos or podcast or even a hat,
they set their antennae to the wind,
and remembering the future,
not knowing the past,