The Island

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.