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
a pocket knife, then quarter an apple
stall our hunger. Hours until breakfast,
boat wandered in faint waves, un-anchored.
man would smoke, or with several strokes
us in among reeds to a sinkhole.
of his moods, with little to say
as bobbers ticked on the wavering glare.
Some cartographer's error
and we squandered
a river on the map now swamp;
glacial fissures drained to marsh,
so a channel angled south goes east then north,
halt canoes at a beavers' dam, trunks big as log cabins.
of droplets per cubic inch, and brief efflorescence
stalks, leaves and lacy ferns already by August
for an onslaught of snow. Head-high grass
by prows keeps no trail of keel, paddle blade, or feet
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.
far to your vanishing point?
Our lives became things,
callused joints and scarlet knees,
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
twelve-foot visibility encircling each boat.
noon a bush plane, the growling saws.
village on Red Lake. But remember
how the land made its own way, with no one there.
-from As When, In Season