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Jim Schley


The Last Summer
Sunrise erupted on a cloud-ridged horizon.
Land so level, sloping just inches from the lake.
Hear the squeak of oars, the slap and swivel
half in darkness, edging shoals as the boat
came clear to open water.  I would hold
a tin of worms in warm dirt.  My granddad,
sturdy and terse, would ferret them out
with a pocket knife, then quarter an apple
to stall our hunger.  Hours until breakfast,
the boat wandered in faint waves, un-anchored.
The man would smoke, or with several strokes
nudge us in among reeds to a sinkhole.
In one of his moods, with little to say
as bobbers ticked on the wavering glare.
Land Alone
Some cartographer's error
and we squandered days,
a river on the map now swamp;
glacial fissures drained to marsh,
so a channel angled south goes east then north,
to halt canoes at a beavers' dam, trunks big as log cabins.
Millions of droplets per cubic inch, and brief efflorescence
in stalks, leaves and lacy ferns already by August
curling for an onslaught of snow.  Head-high grass
spread by prows keeps no trail of keel, paddle blade, or feet
as flies toil and bite, as boots spew rot from muddy sockets.
Redwings creak on cattails like farcical guides.
Bullfrogs thrum directions only a blackbird could decipher.
Who are you to the herons, to the beavers felling trees?
Who cares for you? say the barred owls,
as soft to disappear as puffs of mist.
How far to your vanishing point?
Our lives became things,
callused joints and scarlet knees,
with hair tied back to tumble behind.  Six of us,
strangers since, a rank and cantankerous crew.
On day three we crossed a flowage in porridge-thick fog,
tracking island to island by compass
with twelve-foot visibility encircling each boat.
Near noon a bush plane, the growling saws.
The village on Red Lake.  But remember
how the land made its own way, with no one there.
                    -from As When, In Season