Inside, they were polishing the floor:
Planks pried from a sunken schooner
Dried out, worm holes intact – so that
If you spilled your drink, some of it
Could possibly drip into the cellar
(which was older than the schooner,
walls of river limestone mixed with brick
of a trading post called Whiskey Center –
during the War of 1812 partisans
had hidden behind barrels of liquor and flour
though the more successful ones
had tripped at daybreak into the marsh
to suck through reeds – a sort of gunboat
diplomacy gone awry – the Indians kept
changing sides, plus they knew all the forest paths
of escape – their misfortune was in thinking
this was a passing occurrence
like a holiday that only happened once.
The cellar flooded with gore and storm water
as the whole estuary made islands of neighbouring
knolls, though by then the Brits had sailed on
to Mackinaw City – or so I’ve read).
In April the tourists haven’t arrived,
We stand on the wharf watching a current
Tug at block foundations of the burned bridge –
Which can be seen entire on postcards.
As well as party boats of the 1920s,
Artists with easels in the 1930s.
With the return of cruise liners
There is even talk of resuscitating the town band
Ten degrees below zero this morning, he writes to his friend –
Like everyone else who writes to friends in these parts,
Trees, brush and snow, only something like a cardinal
Shows any spunk, as in a Xmas card opened in Florida
Or San Diego. The dirty green tufts at peaks of white pine
Complete it. Sipping soup or poking through a catalogue
Imagination is at its low-watermark, though it shouldn’t be.
It shouldn’t be so brittle, like ageing shelf ice, like bones
In the back room, deer bones no doubt, ribs and tibias –
With thoughts like stale crackers, cold cracked boots.
Mucus dried. Men recalling deer camps of their youth.
Women hunched over with paper packages on the street
Below the hill blotched by sliding sand, and dark disks
Of earth and roots where maples have toppled. An entire world
Of contrivances caught in slush, falling in blocks over
The short falls where the power company once had a generator
Which detached one night in an explosion of brick and cable,
Sparks like stars, about the time trains stopped running north,
Though that was several baseball seasons ago – when the governor
Still came home in summer with his lonely daughter,
To the yard where a statue stood peeing water behind
A brick wall. A square napkin, a round fat candle
At the end of the wing of the tavern where the doctor,
The mayor and the constable meet for steaks and margaritas,
Sound of the river sliding by and over the revetments –
Though there is still concern for Margaret so long missing
From her journey to Cincinnati, Ed’s Margaret that is.
Didn’t he find some Hopewell jewellery in those mounds
On his property? I don’t believe it amounted to much, said Jake.
But he’s an odd duck. I remember standing in their kitchen,
It was so dark you could barely see him grinding sausage, the old grinder
Bolted to the table. What did he do with it, the copper jewellery,
I mean? Sold it downstate, said Jake. But even the minister
Won’t talk to him since he shot the poacher. Reinder opened
His hands, as if bread was ready to float down from the ceiling.
A tin ceiling needing some repair and cleaning. Not that the parson
Has much to crow about since that episode with Mrs Dish.
Well, yes, but there is a difference I think. Being in the war and losing
His eye, said Tom. It was our luck that brought us our worry,
He once said. All three considered fate for a moment. Jake lit
A cigar. I grew up near Margaret you know. She told me long ago
That in the middle of the night she found her way to the outhouse
Pulled up her nightshirt and sat on a chicken. Ha ha, laughed Reinder,
That could explain quite a bit . . .
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