Ice Breaks on the Menominee River, April 19, 1999
The first thing that happens is the smell of dirt,
my father walking down the driveway
in flimsy sunlight and then a warm sniff.
Memories of rototillers and green lawns
send him eyeballing the base of snow drifts
where ruddy dirt shows through.
Snow melts from firewood piles and old cars
and it is Lent, and the next thing that happens
is he returns to the garage after dinner,
clicks on the light, and pours oil in drain pans,
wipes engines down with filthy rags
while the ice on the river swells invisibly,
movements of the great earth around him.
He hauls wood, snow recedes from the picnic table
like the next act, a ponderous,
slippery dialogue among crusty drifts and dripping water.
River pressure builds day by day
under the harness of ice.
He feels restless, and the white sky
crouches low on the earth and the river moans,
scrapes against itself,
wet rumblings push at the windows.
He smoothes a newspaper
with small, calloused hands,
sees that the shingles need fixing,
as ice on the river explodes in slow motion
like a black hole expanding through space.
Floes push downstream like barges,
send boat-sized shards up riverbanks as dark water
escapes through rotten ice
that buckles under the old pressure —
then my father stands, hands in pockets,
one part of the ancient earth watches another
tear itself free.