"Ghost and Oar" by Marianne Boruch, Artist-in-Residence

Red Dragonfly Press / 2007

for Dick and Mary Scheibe
 
Lakeshine: I’d say
tinfoil, the first easy
thing to say, shielding
my eyes to dock

or cove. I’d say
lightshow on steroids or
little electric shocks
or fireflies transfigured.

Here the eye takes
the brain walking. The brain
on its leash has no
human speech for this

expanse, the usual amazing
oh, it widens. Do you believe it?
falls ping! on searing metal
that blinds. Or it loosens.
My heart, its breathing hole
at my ear. My head
empties and fills
with it. Like I heard

something in that quiet,
heard the fox, then saw
the fox out there, young, too
early from the den. Was he

in danger? I don’t know. It was
lake light, not an ocean
though water came and went, grew
large, the fox probably never

sweet but tentative near the rocks,
not quite, not stopping either. Breathe.
I breathe like that. And gave him
fear. And made him vast.
The loon with two chicks.
No. Two loons with two chicks
equals four. Really three,
he told me. One chick

survives. For now, it’s daylight
and glare. And water run. To dip
a hand from the boat, a semi-sweet
stinging. The air’s cut

through thousands of spruce
to get here and smell
like this. How to know the woods
is straight violence and sex,

that anything can walk off
a postcard into ruin, that wolves
track an old moose five at a time.
The bloody at it comes quick.
Like the silkworm, is it
spit the spider
leaves behind? Loose
tangle of squares

and circles so moth
and fly go stupid
to pass through or rest
on a thread. Not yet,

either one, though wind
billows the doorway.
She does a little repair,
down, sideways.

A hunger so elaborate
is casual now. Nothing
to it but the rising
and the falling.
Let’s review the fog suit
for each island, the voice leaked
from somewhere to tell her. See, you
can’t know if it descends to

or rises from water, even the spruce
bleached out. Close or far, it’s not
that pretty. Step out of the fog suit
for the poem. Please. Put on

something else. But I love the fog suit,
she said, rocks eaten by it, minnows
and big honkin’ trout, shipwrecks
stinking up in the bay blanked out, guys

who thought they were fishing. Hear it?
They’ve cut the motor in that nothing.
Only two or three words they repeat. Then
slowly repeat. And not to each other.
They’ve made the old fishery
an old fishery again, real
trout in a waterbox
under the floorboard you

lift by an iron ring. Look.
One’s huge. And doesn’t even
bother to circle as the smaller
ones circle. Their fate

is anyone’s fate. Two choices:
you can wait in that dark
or up here. Meanwhile, flowers
riot in their window and roses

come hither, hither, almost
indecent, then truly. This lost
or never at all. Held
in that fragrance.
Past sixty and pounds over, she
jumped from the boat, suddenly bigger
than her life. Perhaps you were her sister
shocked, who turned away. Because

she stripped off everything, descending—
a goddess, no, a god—in that bright
lagoon where shade made deeper pools,
lake a further noise past those islands.

The truth is, massive and pale, she
lengthened and swam, maybe singing out
Something. And why not? I see water so
clear in this story, the grace to do that,

the perfect nerve of any summer afternoon
marked by abandon, years and years
released like a latch: light and leaves,
remember? Too much and so many.
Nothing doing, none of it painted, she said.
A house of wood that says
wood, knots in the grain where a branch
had hope afloat in each board,

windows cut into wall. A wall?
the voice said, you mean a thing nailed up,
hammer hitting square or not? And I
want water in the poem, she said, seen

from a porch. Or its blue could be closer.
A pond. An inland lake. Smallest color on a stamp
where no roads can be built. And fish fish fish?
the voice throwing its voice sounded funny,

like a mouse, a little bird: just the thought
of their flashing… Don’t make fun of me,
she said. They come flush with some
larger world. And I’ll forget you.
Not gracious but hair the wren
weaves into nests is still an offering,
the human head a curious instrument
of giving and use up and get back.

Or hair once crisscrossed into plaster
even now stiffens a wall. The old days.
I told you, that island darks any winter
you want, but more—hurry—one

needs it long. I read he died. She grew
weak alone, iced in out there. No story
at all if not for the rabbit snares
she made with her hair. And watched

in snow, each month adrift. Delicate,
and hopeless it must have, must have
as she knotted and wove, each next one
to make it stinging up from the root.
They collect skulls and go by boat,
knowledge an island, after all. They
circle it. You can tell anything
by bone in the head.

Press this, he says. It’s thinning.
This moose lived a long time.
And this one, the carcass found
by wolves that might have

starved, snow two feet deep.
When and how—someone marked
exact, in ink. So this village of skulls
has heroes. The cedar’s enormous

throwing its shade. Bone where
brain kept storm and sky. Lake dizzied
in there. That ache, that dotted line
between us? Their holes stare anyway.
One island is
a dragon. One’s a giant
at rest. See his profile,
she says, hands

on his chest? Then it’s
years. And she stops.
The silence out here, its
where and once, its ghost

and its oar. Who wouldn’t
lie back and go under? Water
equals dream, dream equals
any small boat come this far.

And summer. Who can keep
childhood from it?
You throw a rope to someone
who waited on shore.
The lake, clouds patch it dark.
And below, trout only want it calm,
no eels to sucker them down or
scar them, no hooks tied with feather.

It’s not what you want, the voice said.
And what the moose wants?—not
to be riddle-stung by ticks,
blood gluttons swollen half an inch

by late winter. And what the wolf wants—
guess. Those ravens circle his kill,
birds that will and want some
and already have. It’s not

the poem you want, the voice
rang in her ear. As if
you even could—the finally, the
never finished in all this.
135 copies printed from hand-set Deepdene and
American Uncial types. The text paper is Frank-
furt Cream and the handmade wraps are from the
Twinrocker mill. The title page illustration —
‘Wolf-kill relics from Isle Royale’ — is from the
hand of Gendron Jensen.

Copyright 2007 by Marianne Boruch
ISBN: 978-1-890193-75-1

‘Let’s review the fog suit’; ‘Like the silkworm, is
it’; ‘Nothing doing, none of it painted, she said’;
‘One island is’ Great River Review. ‘My heart, its
breathing hole’; ‘The lake, clouds patch it dark’
Meridian. ‘Lakeshine: I’d say’; ‘They collect skulls
and go by boat’ Pank. ‘They’ve made the old
fishery’; ‘Not gracious but hair the wren’; ‘Past
sixty and pounds over, she’; ‘The loon with two
chicks’ Quarterly West.

Many thanks to the editors of the above journals
who took on this work. And to Rangers Greg
Blust and Karena Schmidt for their great kindness
during my time in the Artist-in-Residence Program
at Isle Royale National Park where these poems
were written, July 2006.
 
 

Last updated: January 15, 2020

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