The Insufferable Logic of Tides

Sometimes

you are hauled backward

before you can

move forward; you get on a plane in the dark

in Nashville

and head south to Atlanta before touching down

in Milwaukee

where someone you love waits in the sleeting rain

to drive you back

and pour you into a warm, flightless

bed.

Sometimes

the moon draws you back

like a half smile,

a wave helpless against a tide of something deeper

than you can fathom;

you just catch sight of land when Lake Michigan’s icy fingers drag you

coughing, gasping,

half-drowned into the past, the future laid out on the pebbled shore

like a table set for someone

who is not you.

Sometime, maybe,

the path worn by the incessant argument between

then and now,

between what you squint to see and what you’ve got,

will give way –

and the ragged rasp of back and forth, back and forth,

forth and back,

will stop – and you’ll be delivered like a newborn,

one last push

will show you into the world you never saw coming

despite

all of the maps you drew.

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.

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.

The Fourth Generation of Monarchs Remember the Future

Three generations of monarchs

unfurl their wings

right where they emerge,

dazed,

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,

like constellations

by which tiny winged boats are steered.

But the fourth generation wakes,

and though

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,

and untutored,

uncaffeinated,

unpacked,

without thermos or podcast or even a hat,

they set their antennae to the wind,

and remembering the future,

not knowing the past,

fly away

into the

once again

unknown.

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.

 

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

 

 

Falling Stars

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,

you cannot,

come back this way.

Centrifugal Force

In the beginning

the boys and their sleds

and half-size snowboards would pile in

on a snow day, headed for the Suamico Elementary School hill;

They were puppies,

interchangeable, laughing, careening

down the hill over and over –

later they’d play Minecraft,

fighting zombies in the dark,

building houses close together

for protection –

in a few years, their video games

will have guns, but they’ll still

watch each other’s sixes,

sleeping a little further apart on the floor

amid pizza boxes and empty Mountain Dew cans;

Not all of them will move on

to Dungeons and Dragons,

creating possible worlds and missions,

and sometimes they’ll just put on headsets

and play from afar.

They have differentiated in the

spinning force of adolescence – 

shedding loose articles, picking up

guitar, theater, weightlifting, skiing –

they show up in the driveway

in their own trucks and thunder down the stairs with their laptops;

The centrifuge spins faster, they are heavy with something they can’t name-

they are being thrown one by one by one by one

into the world where they pick up

jobs, vehicles, girlfriends,

habits, memories,

regrets.

One day

not so many years from now, two will

arrive at the Kwik Trip, standing at different fuel pumps

rubbing their hands in the cold, and they’ll grin and 

give each other manly half-hugs and stand and talk about that one time

they went sledding in the middle of the night,

or maybe

they’ll exchange only

glances

before driving away.