Day Seventeen of Thirty Days of Writing
A low rumble of thunder and soft rain, soggy cigarette
stuck in teeth. Mac and Jimmy flip the canoe
to empty out the stale lake water, the crushed beer
cans the black widows onto the shore, then drop it
over the dock with a slap in the lake, a splash that nips
shins. Four deep in a single canoe is a bad idea.
You two are sittin’ bitch, get in, no doubt Charlie
will tip us, a diabolical grin — wouldn’t dream it.
Plant a foot dead center, the ship bows down and quivers
a whole unsteady body. Charles, less than graceful,
stumbles in as hands clutch the swaying dock,
then Jim in port to row and Mac in stern to steer.
You’re starboard by now. It’s 4am quiet. Forgetful light
drowsily parts one eye and peaks through the clouds
then shuts the blinds tight. Lets go boys. It’s shallow.
Jim hops into the water and drags the canoe farther out.
Back on board, silent rowers, oars slicing calm
waters, ripples that never return. Everything slumbers
at some point, even the lake is fast asleep, oblivious
to those skimming across its surface. You were born
here, in murky waters and dense woods. You swore
never to come back, but here you are, in the middle,
trying your best to keep balance. A flipped canoe
means being stranded in the vastness of liquid space.
The boys pass a joint, a lazy cloud follows along.
Restless Charles rocks from left to right to test the hulls.
The canoe dips, one side in, one side up, and the lake
Comes in to taste your toes. Damnit Chuck followed
by a sinister laugh I’ll take you all with me!
Movement and noise are alien to the lake’s repose.
The waters are confused by clumsy oars, but soon
your helm is back on course, and the silent rowing continues.
Your destination is a dark mass of land at the center
which grows with each stroke. It’s been years, Jim murmurs,
we used to do mushrooms, stranded on the island as if
it were the entire solid world. We tore our shirts for torches
and painted our skin with mud, lords of this domain, we
wrote the laws of this land. You wonder if he had a conch
shell tucked away beneath his bench seat. The stories
told never quite fit the life lived, but who’s counting?
You recall one drunken night, but isn’t that how many
tales begin, reckless and slovenly teetering on the edge
of oblivion and sexcapades, a sheer shitshow, a lustful
fistful that ruefully plays out exactly the opposite of
everything desired. Tonight, though, the only intention
is reaching the destination. The island grows and grows
and soon it is upon you. Jim jumps out and tugs. All
four hop into dark shoal waters that circle the knees
like crude oil. The bottom is muck that gathers between
toes. Something sharp, a rock, or broken glass, hidden
below, barely grazes you, though you’re too warm inside,
your head clammy, your eyes glazed, to feel any pain.
The canoe is beached. Mac slugs a sign that is smothered
in foliage and wrapped in vines. NO TRESPASSING
It looks like a foreign language the earth had forgotten
long ago. The island is small. It is all trees and a single
hill you climb in torn bare feet, slipping in the muck.
There is a clearing at its peak, and through the thin trunks
of wood, you can make out the wide silvery lake
and the shore you left behind. The four of you lay
in the four cardinal directions, and gaze up into
eerie, gray, fat clouds and black holes where the sky
shows. Look at those little black clouds stony Charles
sighs out. That’s the sky, dumbass Mac smacks him.
It isn’t much, but for some reason this line sticks
With you for years. The sky is white with clouds
Except where black night shows through. Black clouds.
White sky. Whenever you get too high your depth
perception fizzles out, and the floor might as well
be an inch from your face. Is it failing eyesight, or
just the way in which we each see, whether the sky
or a memory? Everything here might be imagined
but this innocent line lingers in your ears. Hours
pass, lifetimes. It is time to go back. Charles is out cold.
We should leave him
He would be so pissed
Stranded on the island
You think he’d swim?
You wake him. It’s time to go back.
Light has regained the world. The canoe
slips over the quicksilver lake back to shore.