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.

The Nest (Or, a Father Considers the Odds of Raising Successful Small-Mouth Bass Offspring)

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.

 

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.

Night on Shakey Lakes, -17°F

Tonight we sleep

above the ice,

(cocooned like mousies in sleeping bags)

under an impossible number of January stars,

(brilliant like only winter stars can be, Orion hunting alone)

over the lake, and the fish in the lake,

(swimming slowly in the iced water capped by sixteen inches of ice)

in this bitter cold,

(as I burrow further and further into my nest)

through this lonely watch of night,

(three decades in, we breathe across the aisle, untangled)

inside my dreams the lake is a giant, shifty and cross, too much river in its belly,

(the ice creaks and rumbles and groans and cracks and growls)

beyond this shelter the sun’s first rays slide over the ice,

(the bright silver sliver of moon slipping like a minnow behind the bare tree line)

in this small space, it’s a false darkness,

(we’ve blocked the sunrise, and curious neighbors)

below me, though, the holes drilled yesterday to catch the fish in the belly of the lake

(tempted, or not, by the dancing bait)

catch instead the light from the sunrise

that I leave for you

as I drive

away.

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.

One For the Road

I am drunk on this new summer twilight, the world’s

wash is golden-hued burdens liberally poured, and so

I will roll in the fields where the corn is laid out in straight, sober lines, the light

Creeping between them like water rising slow –

I will lick the tree trunks and the underside of leaves garnished gold and pale yellow

And swallow it all down like whiskey, burning

I will dive between the slats of the hollow barns, catch the shining insects

In my teeth and crunch them like butterscotch beetles on the wing;

I will have another and yet another from my friend Sonny the bartender,

Who doles another round from the cumulus bar itself changing dreamily from an anvil tinged in pink

To the head of an armored dragon, trailing lazy smoke, and

I will pluck the sun drenched stones along the bowls of fields and roll them over my tongue and

Flick them back into the world I will tip

the cloud-dappled sky back and have it with my eyes, poring over its every curve,

My winter-cauled eyes desperate for the magic hours of long summer days, greedy for

The swollen clouds parting along a line of trees turned silhouettes;

I will not pay my tab before leaving, I will swagger and stagger out

Of this place, holding on to the backs of polished wooden fenceposts

Navigating the perils of this world with one eye closed to time, as it reels in its orbit –

Belly full of light, burping up slivers of afternoon

I will wander down the lane, I will find my way, shaking bits of fading light

Out of my hair, wiping it from my mouth, brushing it off of my clothes,

Tracking it in crumbling pieces across the kitchen floor on my way to my spinning bed

Where I will slowly sober up and fall down

into darker and darker sleep

until the darkest sleep comes for me;

While outside, fireflies wink and dive,

threading the night with lonely stitches of light,

hitching close the wounds made but not yet felt

in the fabric of the new summer night.

Catch and Release

This poet pinned

behind his ’63 Smith Corona

at the art fair; he tilts his hat and waits for you

To come, to ask him to free this poem

not yet written, the one now held hostage

inchoate in the fractal web of ether-

He’ll lure it onto the page with whispers and worn

keys clacking, zing, and

you’ll pay the ransom, let it loose in the world where it isn’t

yet, it will go with you, has been caught

in the net of your dreams now- but

as for him, he stays and

watches the sky and

waits patiently for the inevitable

return of the endless flock of words,

migrating north again in long vees,

honking;

He calls them in one by one, they

surround his head in a cloud of invisible bees, they

clamber up out of the hives but he tamps them

down – not unkindly – while he waits

For others to come by with coins

or teas or stories to trade –

He finally frees them one by one, now strung together like

Spun glass beads around a lonely neck – juniper,

echo, conduit, fairy tale, copper, trolley,

mitochondria, ginger,

melancholy, amber

Words

That have come to us

As if by some prior arrangement, have leapt over

some wrinkled fold in the universe, have caught

a wandering ride on a draft from some butterfly

wing’s from the time before, were called

in for dinner as dusk deepened and settled

in the long grass,

landing among us

like truth

like fireflies,

carrying darkness,

carrying light.