Westwind

Ice Fishing

Cody Koester

 

I.

 

Snow. Half-light. Memory cast out

to that cabin back in Lapland where we spent

those final days with her, before she’d be put away.

 

Long, mid-winter night. Dead silence since she’d fallen

sound asleep, after songs and fits of incoherencies

that you were kind in your refusing to repeat to me,

 

refraining a translation into my own language.

Not this time, you whispered, even when I asked to know

(as if to understand) all those unfamiliar sounds she’d made.

 

The way you’d always otherwise reverse the words to help me

feel my way around that foreign land— that simple comfort

learning terms and small expressions of one’s world.

 

Huopa, you taught me, the special felt she fused by hand

for blankets years ago when you were young,

but even you in mother tongue have trouble now

 

interpreting the way she slips into those old articulations

of the phrase, fissured memory made manifest in dialect that has not

endured into the place where once she taught you how to speak.

 

 

II.

 

Yet there we were, or rather, here we are.

And you, the wiser, recognize these instances

when silence seems the only way to keep—

 

But I, needing to conceive another way,

gather some supplies and walk outside

into the barren white, through small thickets

 

of loaded pines, the sun so low it slants

these meager hours that it tries to rise

this time of year. And as I walk along,

 

my booted feet (half-frozen by the restless

drifts that fill the footprints of my path)

warm up as I approach the clearing that

 

I know is near a stream where I’ll set down.

I flick the lighter— flits a spark, a flame,

a fire fed with paper scraps and tinder

 

that I’ve saved, and brace a snow-filled pail

above the blaze, hear the clicking crystal

ice flakes as they melt into their place,

 

take fluid form and then wisp up in slips

of steam. And I unwind the spin cast reel,

hook the line, loop and knot a luring jig,

 

then screw the blue old-fashioned drill into

the frozen-over stream that runs below—

Cast into the hole and wait for the pull.

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