In January the fisherman hammered
loose nails on his wooden shanty, then
dragged it onto Lake Butte de Morts,
a glacier-carved, frozen finger of the Fox.
Bundled in wool muffler and fur-lined
parka he began his day’s work,
and sometimes, I was his helper.
With blonde braids wound tightly under
knitted mounds of bright green yarn,
I shared the foggy breath of the patient
ice dweller. He scraped and drilled,
lines were dropped, and thermoses
of brewed coffee and steamy cocoa
warmed our tired gloved hands.
Snuggled under red plaid blankets,
we sat on orange crates in the dim
shanty for hours, waiting to snag
a slithery creature from beneath
our rubber-soled feet. His husky voice
praised the talents of our baseball heroes,
Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn,
and I longed for a County Stadium,
mustard-soaked hot dog and the glare
off the third base dugout.
I lie on a sheet-covered table
with arms raised, shoulders pressed
on a cast of my upper body
like those hanging on dress racks
by the wall, a crisp spring line
in the latest shade of purple.
I stare at a giant steel replica
of the goose-necked lamp
on my childhood desk and think
nothing this heavy should loom
over a person. Then it rumbles,
inches toward skin plum-colored
I float on a distant memory.
Sand absorbs my shadow like oil
as I look for a spot to spread
a blanket, an armful of books
with titles I don’t remember,
an orange-trimmed tote
with possessions I can’t recall.
But in the hazy stillness
the sea shimmers, a lacy white,
Sunlight bathes my bare calves,
glistening like tender buds
of willow. I stop and breathe
the perfume of this place.
I pray this is how it will be.
The vast room fades while
beauty gleams: his gentle touch,
her compassionate voice,
the generous red beam of life.
Here, at eye level, are the last of the lilacs.
Not a heady purple, but a quiet color,
a lavender as muted as Grandma’s soap
after weeks of washing. And they’re not
the luscious bunches she’d display
in tall green jars on her windowsill!
These lilacs are the remnants of spring,
holding on despite restless branches,
surging stems, roots with lungs of foremen
in steel-toed boots barking, Let’s keep
the line going. On this May evening
I draw them near, capture their will
to keep on living, their brief shadow
I walk down the center aisle
in a dimly lit chapel, mourners
hunched together in wood pews
like crows on power lines,
black shoulders sagging.
Amid sobs and the click click
of rosary beads,
a white coffin no bigger
than a toy chest lies open.
And candles, more candles
than he is old, light the boyʼs face.
Soft curls lie on a satin pillow.
His khakis are pressed,
Even the red plastic bat
and ball alongside him
are not nearly as scratched
as they should be.
I imagine him at fifteen.
He digs his cleats into the earth
and wham, a line drive.
The bleachers go wild,
his legs pump as if heʼd been born
for that moment.
He feels like he could run forever,
past the crowd, toward the childhood
he missed, and the family pool
where his tiny body
floats face down. Iʼll save you, he says, Iʼll save you.