Somewhere, Another (The Pied Billed Grebe)

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

another grebe,

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 –

holding nothing,

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.

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.

 

Breaking and Entering

Winter broke and entered years ago,

pressing icy fingers against our skin,

wandering under our shirts,

searching for our hearts,

listening as we slowly wound down –

we were watches kept in a drawer of an empty house.

But I think you must have jacked open

some painted-over lead-poisoned window,

somewhere, deep inside,

(maybe in that sealed-up chamber of a basement tomb

with a wood-burning stove and

a second-hand recliner with a place

for a beer to slowly warm, but not a place for everything)

letting a southern wind blow through

this Northern plain and breathe Spring into my heart,

or my cerebellum,

making me wonder if –

anyway then you woke and

Summer bloomed into my lips, my hips,

they rocked like ships

oh, and

I think for a little while, maybe, you and I

can keep the window open, keep

the two by four jammed

up against the door, keep it

barred against the

ravenous wolfish Fall,

where he waits,

anticipates

the last of the ticks

as he licks

his lips

and yawns

at the door.

Wes and Jesus Come up Empty

I.

After

we see paintings of the sea, and moonlight, and doom by

Winslow Homer, after we work on income tax forms and insurance and eat

carnitas

burritos and watch Netflix, I don’t feel well,

it’s not a bellyache or a hangover or a fever or something that CVS can fix.

it’s like

this existential ache in my soul; it’s

not something that I really want to think about

because

I’d have to reach back all the way to the beginning

and anyway it’s dinner time and instead I’m reaching into this drawer full of

knives,

serrated blades that bare their

teeth along my fingers, but I’m careful to take just one.

II.

Last week

I saw a TV commercial for a microwavable cup

with bits of vegetable and potato and peppers, you just add an

egg

and your breakfast problem is solved, I am thinking

of this while you and I walk 38 blocks teetering on the edge of

Milwaukee;

this March Sunday morning question unsolvable:

is this it, or is there more? I wish I could just add an egg to this

problem.

Faced with that same question 27 years ago,

I stayed. Was it right? I don’t know. The thought of not having my

three

children, these particular ones, out in the wide world

brings me to fierce and sudden tears right there on the windy sidewalk.

Each

choice is wrong, either choice is right,

or could be made so, perhaps you learn how you feel before the coin lands.

III.

“Is he

a good dog? ….Who’s to say?”

Wes Anderson doesn’t help me here, or Jesus either; Micah 6:8,

what

is the right thing to do in this instance,

what leads to happiness? Do I say, stay, stay with this boy who is kind, this boy we

love

and who loves you, beyond measure,

even if you do not always sharpen each other, make each other better,

like

a knife against a stone?

The world is full of sharp things.

IV.

Life

is a yawning paper cootie-catcher

on lined notebook paper in a 5th grader’s back pocket, first narrow then wide,

narrow

then wide, you can’t know what’s

inside, you just have to pick a color, and pull up the flap, the

question

on the other side propels you

deeper into the story, back and forth and back and forth

until

you don’t know how

you got there or where you are going, you just hold on and

ride,

back and forth and dark and

light, yin and yang, pain and pleasure, if you are lucky,

until

it closes on this world for good

and opens in the dawn of another, without any

guessing at all.

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.