POEM: ‘Last Ice’

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{ November }

How do we prepare?
The wooden swing wrapped in plastic on the lawn.
An unopened bag of rock salt next to the garage.
My father’s bright orange camouflage snowsuit on the hallway bench
fresh from the attic.
In a diner on the edges of the lake,
Laura, a waitress with kind eyes, makes her way toward me.
“Fill up?” she asks and before I answer,
she tops up my mug, the steam rising from the lip.

It reminds me of a scene from down river just last week.
A man burning leaves in his yard,
the smoke rising up over his head,
curling above the chimney of his home and beyond.

“Any ice on Lake Erie?” I ask, rolling down the window.
Soon enough, the worn leather booths Laura has memorized will fill with anglers who will file in for breakfast after the morning’s catch.

All along the shorelines, I hear talk circling the water and its mood.
I imagine my dad at home looking out the window.
Listening to the weather forecast.

{ December }

There’s a sign on the fence that says,
“If you smoke, take a can.”
Aluminium vessels for ashes painted aqua blue
dangle from wire hooks.
There are footprints on the dock
in the snow but I’m the only one here.

This is where my father comes for first and last ice.
Normally at this time a village of ice anglers sit on down-turned buckets
rods cast into perfectly augured six-inch portals.
I wish I could dive into those small spaces where silvery fish swim between the weeds,
the heavy military boots planted around the holes overhead.
I’m told by men who resemble my father that the ice represents
a silence that spreads out and forms a connective tissue between them.
Sometimes I imagine my mother in the car after dropping off
my father to go ice fishing.

She watches him walk through a field to that icy unknown space,
nervously watching him walk and walk until he gets there.

Her hands reaching up to shield the sun from her eyes.

{ January }

Sometimes when it’s changing,
the ice makes strange noises that sound like whales
or some mysterious sea creatures
communicating underneath.
One time when I was about a mile out with only a few people in sight,
the small shanty I was in started violently shaking for a moment.
“Ice earthquake!”
the man I was with said to me, and then went back to his fishing.
The ice was expanding.
I felt alive.

{ February }

On some Saturday nights on Lake Huron a group of people
build a bonfire by the ice.

They bring hot dogs to roast, hot chocolate and other snacks.
At dusk, a line of lights forms from miles out on the ice.

Hundreds of ATVs begin moving slowly toward the shore.
The bonfire crowd is there to watch
the light dance on the ice, dark and light swapping places
the ice, black, or maybe disappearing.
All along my journey, I find myself sharing space with strangers.
Fellow enthusiasts, friends of the ice.
One time a man opened his home to me on Lake Michigan.
As I stood in his kitchen, I began scanning
the sayings he had plastered on his walls,
like arteries of a value system.
In our time together, he tells me he often thinks about the people
who live on the other side of Lake Michigan.
“Who are they?” he says,
this water, the divider yet something
like a life force between them.
“I’m going to the Michigan side of the shore in about a week,” I tell him.
“I’ll wave at you. Look out your window.”

{ March }

It is coming to an end,
but these March mornings are the ones I love most.
When I get out of my car and tiptoe onto the ice.
One time, when I was in the parking lot of a marina,
I saw a man sitting in a truck looking out to the horizon.
I went up and tapped on his window.
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“I’m just watching,” he said.


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