He unties the pontoon boat my brother built and pushes out from the dock. Starts the 9-horse and heads across the lake to the little bay. There’s barely a ripple on the water and the sun is about forty minutes from setting. A hint of red in the sky. He’s sixty and learned recently that he has three years left. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

He doesn’t resist, but does hope. You never know.

He anchors off the point, puts a minnow on his hook and casts just inside the weeds. A couple of Coors Light sit on ice in the cooler. Silver bullets. My dad cracks one open and sets his lawnchair at the front of the boat. Across the lake a light goes on in the camp. He feels a tug on the line.


Hicks Lake, 1990



Northern Madonna II

Burlap brown fields to evergreen.

Heavy frost under a pale blue sky.


She stands there in a long pink housecoat.


Hugs herself tight. Takes one more drag,

flicks the butt at a squirrel and goes back inside.




I resist the dark thoughts

that cross my mind. Thugs.

Thieves returning. Old familiars.

Sharpening sticks, whispering

and winking at one another.

Everything under the breath.


But I’m not afraid anymore.


I’ve learned how to kill

with my hands, like a hero.

They walk away laughing.

Leaving me with bloody fists.

Shadowboxing fear on the dirt floor

of my grandmother’s cellar.


Ten thousand miles from home.



The bookmark


For a moment his poetry makes me think of Chuang Tzu’s cook of Wei. His knife and perfect skill. Feeling the path between flesh and bone. One with blade. One with beast. One with blood and dead oxen.


The book is Wright’s, Black Zodiak, pages marked with a candid black and white image of my mom and grandparents walking away. No thought of legendary Chinese cooks, American poets or unborn family.


Grandpa O had a bit of a mean streak. Slightly unpredictable. A personality best kept sober. Or so I’ve heard. He owned a Texaco station. Handmade a fiddle. Invented a few things and sometimes painted pictures.


Somewhere there’s another photograph, all white space and big black smoke. The garage that my mother accidentally set on fire, burning to the ground. I wonder how that went over, marking the page and going for a second cup of coffee.