An old house, these woods /
sunlight drips through leaky trees /
on the forest floor /
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,
Cathedral pines rock –
in this ocean of green waves –
I roll through and drown.
over the glassy
of the river;
a narrow pocket
drowses in the lake of the summer sky –
dreaming of wings
That afternoon at the cabin
we sat by the river
after I had cut up those small trees
that you dropped at my feet with the tractor –
(an offering, a challenge,
one that I tore through haphazardly with the new chainsaw,
black and yellow like a drunken, terrible bumblebee).
It was quiet after all that noise,
the dog (our fourth) now gone, our offspring absent-
(one washing other people’s dishes in dirty water for $7.75 an hour,
one in the throes of new love, thrashing in the shallows, and then
one that has swum out to her own sea)
so we sat without them
on cheap and dirty plastic chairs
that had sat outside all winter
and swatted at mosquitoes,
talking a little but mostly just
watching the male bass
swim back and forth around its nest,
guarding the 20,000 –
give or take a few hundred –
eggs ditched by the female – leaving him
to patrol the nest alone, watching for
panfish looking to gorge on eggs coming in from the left
while he is preoccupied with crayfish coming in from the right –
there are always more predators.
(Five bass fry will live long enough to grow ten inches long;
it’s better that the father not consider these odds,
yet, how can he not?)
A muskrat broke the perimeter –
rat-tail moving side to side like a pink snake, but
the bass didn’t break patrol.
A father knows, or thinks he knows, what is a threat.
Really, I had almost certainly just waded right through the nest
through the muck and rocks and branches
(a sweaty, mosquito-repellent covered Godzilla
sending translucent globes helplessly into the current).
But we kept watching the bass,
circling his trampled nest while the sun
slowly arced to the west, and north,
the surface of the river sparkling like
glass from a broken mirror.
Behind us, up the hill,
no one tended the fire;
and though it was light, still, for so long,
in that week leading up to the solstice,
it was too late for us
to go home.
I. Shady Lane
barefoot at twilight
we play Ghosts in the Graveyard
vanishing in dark
cards slap on the porch
kids drunk with freedom
June is ever-dusk
fireflies wink in gangly grass
as I pedal home
Outside in the drizzle of spring,
green, green is the grass –
lilacs are tiny purple fists waiting to unfold
to again welcome May –
once more trotting out its new beginning-
with sweet applause;
Inside, the window is cracked
because of the paint, and you,
at the far end of 16, stand
without a ladder, pulling plastic
glow-in-the-dark stars off of your ceiling,
cracking some, flinging them to the ground.
They have a dim glow, so
one by one I gather them, even the broken ones,
and consign them to an empty drawer.
This earth grows ever older, older,
sliding slowly toward the sun, but
each year it becomes a gangly teenager again
with ragged patches of grass waiting to be mowed,
dandelion acne spotting green fields,
saplings sprouting up in importune cracks,
robins pinning down their mates in a mad scramble,
frogs croaking and peeping in awkward turn,
barred owls rambling late into the night, looking
for someone they can’t name. Who?
But our paths are segments,
not lines or vectors, so
blue, blue is my heart, and oh!
You will not become young again –
I will not find you curled up
with your puppy under your covers,
we will not ever again make up voices
and quarrels for your stuffed toys at night,
and we will never read aloud the last few chapters
of How To Train Your Dragon –
it will always be unfinished for us.
Perhaps you are thinking of all of this
as you leave this room behind,
but I think probably not
as I watch you standing there,
peeling the last star away from the ceiling,
walking over it, without a glance back –
you will chart your course by new stars,
and you will not,
come back this way.