Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Of Time and North

This is the hundred-year April,
the throwback year,
everyone alive then, dead now,

lake ice hanging on
likely through May, cutters
pushing their sturgeon snouts through

the bitter floe of Superior,
fractured windowpanes
of ice stacking on Michigan’s shore

in a jumble
of blue not water, not sky.


When I say blue, do you
see the same blue?

And when I say water, do you
see my hands
shape a fish cutting air?


We’ve never wanted easy,
knitting our own coats
against the cold,
needing rough wool
to chafe us into being better.
We thrive in blizzard,
die swan diving
from our summer boats.
Homesickness is our legacy,
but we can’t seem to leave,
always filled with Old Norse los,
wanting to disband,
go home, make some truce.


When the locks close,
we go into dry dock,
winter lay up,
spend long nights

resting our ears
on the flanks of warm cows,
lulled by the hum
of their ruminations.


Because we descend from milkers
and plowers and sugar makers,
some think we’re landlocked,
but we are shore people at heart,
living at the seams
of land and lake, lake and sky,
where fish scales and blood
slick to our hands, and we play
by ear the trickled tune
of long rain seeping in the walls,
where our love is relic,
weathered and edged as beach glass.


It’s easy to fall into time here
where we are always almost.

Sometimes we run to mountains,
for a while let that looming

and wind swallow our words,
fray our edges, collar us with shadow.


But time cures all romantics
and we come back to where
we know all the tricks
of light—
when it goes slack
and clouds swing
their load of darkness
over the lake,

when it wobbles
before the greening,
becomes a doorway
into forgetting.

Schooled early in learning
to fold and unfold
with the seasons, we save
the summer’s sand-gritted bottles,
warm stones, slivered bones,
compasses we hope
will show us how to hang on
when a film of cold clings
to chain-link fences.


I’m trying to tell you
here, a hundred years gone is nothing
and inside this koan
nothing is somewhere else anymore.


We used to say close only counts
in horseshoes and love,
but if you’re swimming for shore
or slogging through blizzard
toward lit windows,
close becomes luck and love.


When winter leaves, it leaves
only small tents of salt in corners
and mirrors where ice once was.

We see ourselves in that wet light,
a blue not water, not sky,

but near enough.  

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