Round Lake

I tell an easy story, all lies,
at parties. Ask me what I like,
I say digging pits, scrubbing sticks.
Ask me am I married. Easy.
I say no, divorced. You wonder
do I work. Sure, I drill two exact
pinholes in a block of steel.

You I’ll tell two things: the summer
I was twelve I saw the rich men from Detroit
without their wives unravel sails
with the care I’d seen them count their cash.
Their hair was white and gray and brushed.
Their big sails hooked a wind and then two boats
with even-handed men slipped by,
slipped straight in a hush into blue.
I knew that they were making deals out there.
I thought I’d swim sometime to check
but everybody else said, oh yeah,
they’ll hack some waves and yell,
back to your shack, girl. Git, git, git.
But I was sure the men would simply be precise:
Look, we’ll tell you this, and this.
I learned to manage pretty well. And next:
when I was seventeen and pregnant, I saw fire
spread across the lake in whorls,
the flames low, swirled, a richness
like embroidery, or golden robes.
I saw this for myself. And again
that winter, looking down through ice
in calms, in paths of blackened fish,
the sparks careened. A few like mica
flecked at the shores of eyes.
The lake steadied itself with lights
every season after.

Without leaving home
or reading anything I understood,
I knew what traveling could do.
And here I am with square knots tying lies—
when all along it was the lake,
in blue and white and gold geometry,
that dressy fire, that took me in.

:: Janet Kauffman, Where the World Is (1988)

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