Two Poems

From the author’s latest book, The Essential Rudder; North Channel Poems

Return to Nippissing

6000 to 4000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, the Great Lakes
went through a stage of development called Nippissing in the
language of the Anishinaabe people who lived on their shores.
Sign at the top of Maddnac Island
Each winter I dream again of Nippissing,
the glacial flood that ebbed
into three Great Lakes
split by thrusts of rock
and spits of sand we call
Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario,
imitating Native tongues.
In August, its waves will lap our bow
as we sail through the Straits of Mackinac,
stopping on Turtle Island
to see the sun and moon keep company.
Our telltales will flap
red on port, green on starboard
until we set the sails just right
to whisper of the water’s splendor.
And I will offer my birthday daisies
to its undivided spirit.
Fox Island

Mishepeshu is the serpentine presence who rules the water and pulls boaters or swimmers to their deaths when they disrespect his power in the traditional Anishinaabe life-world.
Theresa S. Smith. The Island of the Anishnaabeg.
Even before we enter the harbor
we are surrounded by granite
pink as a baby’s palm
streaked with two-billion-year-old
magma, spilled, then
hardened, broken and worn.
We post a lookout on the bow
to spot suspicious ripples
where water scarcely covers boulders
that could damage
our essential rudder and keel.
We set an anchor and tie to shore
then pick our way through juniper
to another vista of brown, black and rosy curves
to drape our own limbs over their ample bodies.
But this is Mishepeshu’s place as well
and when we notice
that the children have been gone too long
we ring the fog bell urgently
until they clamber aboard with muddy feet
to tell their story
– of the place between boulders
where they sank in muck
saw a coiled snake
abandoned their shoes and ran.
Under its taut, beautiful skin,
the earth still oozes, heaves
and reminds us how soft we are
how vulnerable.