Where the creek bends west, the bank is dark, black mud.
Tiny toads, some still with tadpole tails,
skip across the shimmering, stinking surface.
Horsetail reeds line the bank.
They are strange and ancient.
older by far than the lily pads that float farther out.
On the opposite shore, upended tamarack roots bleach in the sun.
The trunk points south on the water's surface.
Painted turtles sunbathe on this perch.
Down in the muck, a green leviathan waits
in patient stillness for a duckling
or some soft dead thing to sink her way.
She will emerge to bury her cache of eggs
on the edge of a gravel lane.
Stinking and hideous to us, she knows the love of her kind.
On a July afternoon a heron seems frozen
Her head twitches, a fish appears in her beak.
Her neck convulses and bulges, if she had lips she would smack them.
A quarter hour's pull against the gentle current
puts me in Gordon Lake. My parents ashes are spread here.
I catch up with the family ghosts here.
Mom and Pop met and courted at a ballroom on this lake.
My cousin has a summer house where that ballroom once stood.
Another cousin owns my Great-grandmother's house across the lake.
The dark, tannin-stained water tells tales
of six-foot Muskellunge and Aunt Theresa's Model A.
Such yarns are best told in a bar with knotty-pine paneling.
When the light is long, Jack slowly rows Earl Egan's boat.
He casts a bucktail or Injured Minnow into sloughs and shallows.
A thousand casts for every legal musky.
I'm happy to tag along, tending the sucker that trolls behind
and jigging for whatever presents itself for tomorrow's breakfast.
No motor, just the oars. It's not a big lake, go slow, be thorough.
Horseshoes with Uncle Ray tomorrow. Maybe he'll bring his accordion.
After supper there's penny-ante poker with Pop at Tony and Theresa's.
Lothar, Jacob, Adelaide, Aloisius, Karl, and the rest. They are all here.
My roots run deep here,
in the red sand,
in the dark water,
in the fire of a white-gas lantern
in the stink of the black mud
are the elements of me and mine.