Secure in an unlocked house,
my father’s house, redolent of summers
spent during the time-share of childhood,
my baby now naps in my childhood
room. The same blue paper flowers
the walls. The same white window
frames the same view: sheltering
loblolly pines, red & silver maples,
towering oak, and a lake beyond.
My eldest asks to play outside.
I am reluctant to let him go
(the bulkhead will not hold him back
if he totters on its rim; ankle-high ivy
that snakes trunks, corkscrews
branches — leafy boas — conceals
delicate sprigs of poison oak).
I tell him to follow me
to lake’s edge, turning my dad’s canoe
with a thud, banging
out the bugs: black-bodied carpenter ants scatter
like jacks; brown-bodied recluses still
as my paddle falls, rupturing bellies.
I push the canoe into the green water,
hold his hand as he steps down — and the boat rocks,
my son standing, now crouching, now down.
I step in, shove off, teach him
the two-handed push-pull of paddling
in search of that elusive Mute Swan — the one
that returns, summer upon summer, as I did —
but find only Hooded Mergansers,
Gadwall, Shovelers, Muscovies.
This lake, penned
by the Atlantic’s long-reaching fingers
feathered into bays, roads, estuaries, tributaries,
this tributary, dammed into this lake,
is brackish soup, chartreuse algae skin
punctured by heads of turtles, snapping
turtles nipping below
as bass leap for water-strider supper
and minnows gather at lake’s edge
where herons — still as sculpture — alight
amid geese-honks and fanning flap-splashes.
The cicadas’ crescendo diminuendo crescendo
resounds across this lake.
I lay down my paddle, close my eyes.
The bulkhead nudges me back.
I am pushing off with the paddle, aiming
for the dock, when I see the copperhead slung
from a branch above my son, slick rope
swaying in dusk’s rich light
as we pull away.
I tie up the boat, lift him out.
My baby, in the house, is crying.