We covered the beer in the rocks,
so it would not wash away. We
Could hear needles falling
From the pines behind us. The heat
Spell was so thick, even the frogs would not jump,
The sweat on the rim of our hats
Dripped down into our eyebrows.
In this part of the afternoon, the sun
Bounces back at you off the water,
And even the greatest fisherman consider talking.
My father would talk about God
In between stories of great men with tragic lives
Who fished these waters better
Then any heaven sent apostle. There was always
The duality, the best fishermen were
The ones who showed up drunk before dawn
And drove stolen hearses into the swamps
Of Northern, WI. In those stories, I forgot
My mother missed me at home, and grew
To forget to miss the women I was supposed to be missing
When I was out there fishing those great lakes,
I dismissed the sunburn and let the river run through me,
Eating Cheetos and drinking soda with my dad
Drinking Canadian beer. It’s easy
To state the poetic and easier to state the simple
Principles of science, but it takes gifts and guts
And hours spent in deep silence with men
Who take the land as nothing less than holy.
To understand fishing is about where and when
The winds change and whether you have what it takes
To stand there patiently and wait knowing
If nothings caught, indeed, the time spent proves
The stories of our lives more often
read easier as rivers than they do books.
Perhaps each of us are characters driven to find our North Star,
To find the guiding lighthouse to deliver us to shores in a world
Made of more sea than land.
The pale column rising from a cliff,
Stark against the blanket of blue
High above and spiking unrest of the blue below.
My earliest memories of childhood were to great lighthouses,
Some summers the water levels, So low, we would take off our shoes,
feet stubbed by smooth stones, wearied and rubbed soft
By their connection to water. These were dead lighthouses,
They once protected sailors from the fury of the Great Lakes.
My father, a traveling insurance inspector, knew of them
From his days traveling the great Northwoods,
Making no money to ever take his wife and kids
On grand cruises or ‘destination escapes.”
Deep within himself, he was a man
Who knew he could never be in an office.
The solace of the great seashores of Lake Michigan,
the vast pines of the Northern WI were enough for him.
As I child, I found myself underwhelmed by lighthouses.
A trip in the car, a meal at a restaurant, a night at a campground,
And I could endure a few hours at a lighthouse.
Emanating a beam of light to show my father, I saw
What he wanted us to see so badly. To enjoy what gave him peace,
Presence in world where there are just moments of such.
As I grew, I learned to love records. Hours spent trying to write like Paul Simon.
My favorite song, “I am a Rock.”
My mother once told me in deep secrecy, “this is the saddest song of my generation.”
“And the rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” Simon ends with.
When you’re seventeen and the world hurts like a motherfucker most days
(so you think), you believe that line to be literal.
Seventeen year old boys dream of being rocks.
As you grow, you realize water cuts rock. Wind erodes it.
There are other elements at play. You realize a rock can sink a boat,
But lighthouses guides ship around the rock.
You begin to know the power of light and the power of dark.
You meet love and you no longer what to be an island, an island is just a rock
In the middle of the ocean, alone, resolute, solitary.
You meet war, in all it’s forms,
And you find you realize no man is a rock.
Years later, I would take a group of soldiers hiking up to a great lighthouse
Hovering high above the Pacific in Hawaii. We arrived to the parking lot blocked.
“Another suicide,” the Major whispered to me, knowing this lighthouse.
That man was an island who jumped from a rock
to be killed by the sea. Other days on those hikes, I’d just sit in silence
with a soldier who had seen more than my eyes could ever imagine.
I’d watch Soldiers stare down at the unpredictable blues of the sea,
The swirls of blues and swells mixing below them and inside of them.
Grief like the sea has so many colors, so many blues
Caused by temperature, weather,
And all the other elemental triggers inside us.
It has taken years for me to see what my father might have saw in those lighthouses.
Stillbirths, miscarriages, my own wife refusing light,
A few years later,
She too would drive off of seventy five foot cliff when her mind lost its light.
Perhaps my father knew something when he marveled at those lighthouses.
Perhaps he saw man can be a lighthouse, instead of an island.
In deep water there is time and there is distance.
It’s taken years to see what he saw, but I see it now.
The illumination cast at the top of a seemingly lonely tower,
A harsh beam of truth or path forward through a deep dark.