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The dedication page in Do it yourself books

Have you ever built a porch swing?
Cut the pieces yourself,
assemble it like a puzzle.
Do you know how to wax cross country skies?
To match the temperature and snow
there are thermometers for telling you.
Thawing and soggy, use yellow wax,
freezing up icy, use blue,
bitter cold, green.
Have you ever built a cordwood home?
A wood burning stove from a oil drum and pipe flashing?
For each you must cure the wood properly,
cut the lengths just right such that they will fit.

You’re such a funny girl, always wearing your crazy hats,
purple with huge flowers stitched on, frumpy and golden.
I told you so, silly girl. And when we first
started dating, you knitted me a kooky
scarf and stocking cap. I loved it so much.
Your most expensive yarn.

And it was wonderful, the way a wrecking
ball splashes through the air, swimming
pendulum. Whooshed barely past our
faces so close we feared for life
passing us by.

A back handed stone toss making black
ripples strong enough to move ocean sands,
one thousand miles away from our shore.
And when that ocean froze over solid,
we’d ski across it, two sets of tracks
lost into the whiteness.

I tell you I’ve met someone. It’s not
that I want her more than you.
More that you just really don’t want me.
You say you’re happy for me. You say
something about seeing it thirty years on,
but later that afternoon, you simply turn to wave
a last time before stepping out of sight.
And of course my knees buckle, and I turn,
stumble toward the ocean. The one we’d ski
if it iced over by December’s end.
Two tracks side by side in the whiteout.

Silly girl, whose pants don’t match
your socks don’t match
your shoes or your shirt. Silly girl,
nothing ever matches quite
the way that it should.

Ever put a five thousand piece puzzle
set together? My mother taught me
to start by making small piles first;
sky pieces, forest parts,
rivers, roads, clouds. Edges
and corners. The ones that just
almost fit are the very most dangerous.
Or so my mother told me.
Two edges with blue sky
almost perfect but not quite right.
I would try to force them into each other
until they were left mangled
and no longer could fit in to anything
anywhere.

Crazy-hair-on-fire gal, will you
remember to come home in time tonight
to not miss your curfew, to marry me,
or at least to call and say you’ll be late, to not forget
to finish your homework, be the mother
of my children, brush your teeth, turn the bed down, set
your alarm clock so I don’t have to wake you late

for you’ll be rush and disheveled
my beautiful bride for thirty years on now.
And later on our porch swing
we tried so hard not to rush into,
the way families at airports hurrying
up to go on holiday, hurried to have
time together, hurry to have fun. The swing
in front of the beautiful cordwood log cabin
we slowly built up around us,
painstaking over the years.

In the moonlight, which wax will we use?
Is the ice thick enough to ski over the ocean
or is it too dangerous? Will we fall
through, silly girl, and peer up
searching for that jigsaw hole lost in the obsidian glass
ceiling, afraid, out of breath, alone in the darkness,
our life passing us by? Where is the wrecking
ball now that we need it the most,
for careers and the other obligations, the lack of time,
the separate paths we’ve forced upon ourselves.

We’re just like those silly kids skipping
stones, you and I.
Everyone knows how impossible it is to ski
across a December frozen ocean. The tides rip
and heave the ice so much into jagged thorny pieces.
We never even got to the slow dance.
Still skipping stones and the ripples
go out onward for a thousand years,
our porch swing left un-built.

Like reading the last page of that beautiful
book first and by then, everything made
too much sense for us to continue with it later on.
So silly and expected, we put it down
and didn’t even bother. Simply
turned out the light.

Mark McMillen grew up on the stony shores of Door County and attended Gibraltar High School in Fish Creek before heading off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Creative Writing. A two year hiatus took him to Alaska to work the commercial fishing industry on the Bering Sea and to guide sea kayaking in the misty fjords of the Kenai. After returning to finish college, he went on to work abroad in London, Gibraltar, and Frankfurt for nine years before settling happily back in Wisconsin where he gardens and writes poetry in peace and simplicity.