DROWNING IN LAKE MICHIGAN
My first memory looks up to sunlight through water.
I'm on my back at the bottom and have already stopped
struggling for air. The sun's full hands overflow
light leaking through the flawless blue,
quiet and calm like a silent song, Mermaid, I,
I'm already at peace with my death before my father
plucks and pumps me out, sputtering
and crying as the water goes out
and great gobs of thick air sear my lungs open again.
I don't remember the coy ripple the lake lapped
at my baby toes before the wave slapped me down
and into the coarse-grained bed
cleanly wheaten and speckled shallow
this close to where she cozies up to shore,
but deep enough for the baby my father forgot
in a sociable moment, chatting up a new acquaintance.
Always a talker, my father could make new friends anywhere
While I was learning to love the depths. You'd think
It would scare a child, but ever since
I've leapt to water as my element, looked behind me
To catch a glimpse of the ghost of my forlorn and missing
Fish tail, forgotten in the rush of the rescue.
Fishtown, Lower Skagit
from a long canoe with 18 paddlers
“Language burned in us. We were wild with ideas… “ Bob Rose
Water rocks under us.
Water pours over us from a slate sky.
Water collects in the bottom of the boat,
drips off our hat brims, soaks through clothes.
Purple larkspur shows vivid against rain-blackened
rock faces. Columbine in niches clings in shallow soil,
saxifrage shines white on succulent stems.
A red tail hawk drifts above, looking for dinner.
We rock in the river’s current, “Paddles ready,”
then “all paddles ahead,”and “Paddles rest,”
shouted from the back of the boat. A mean
wind arrives from the south. We’re pilgrims searching
the ghost of Fishtown hovering in this Skagit
rain, but most shacks have been torn down,
the land logged, leaving bare bones, or nothing but low greenery .
The hopeful artists and scholars of the estuary
scattered, mostly still around the valley, still making art.
all in our sixties and seventies now.
Some have passed, a life lived for art –as ephemeral as a dance–
but many leave a trail of poems and paintings behind.
None can leave behind the life lived on the Skagit,
the youthful hope and dedication. The river
moves and changes. Shacks, landmarks and channels gone.
But Rivers have memories, says Bob Rose. Restless, they adjust
in their beds. Robert Sund is gone but his tight little cabin
is a refuge from the rain today. We huddle inside
and crowd around the wood stove, drink tea and listen
to Tim McNulty read Sund’s poems of this place. Water,
water, herons, rain, swallows, mud, and rain again.
Even a former resident of Fishtown can’t find
what was there. The river has changed channels
and Fishtown has become a state of mind.