January 3, 2001

you hang a light

from a pole

to fake the moon maybe,

turn them off course

and lead them into

shallows they’d avoid

given choice

mostly you hang the light

because it works, because smelt

can’t choose, won’t discern

when the moon signals life

and when it draws

a net, everyone knows

a moth will slam

itself against hot glass

until it dies of exhaustion,

until it dies of light

and every year, the

same April moon draws

a group of men north

along the highway,

generations of their family

meeting generations of mine,

for a few nights each year

grandfathers first,

when the trip was longer

because cars and roads were younger;

the Italian men slept in canvas

tents, wet with breathing

beside my grandfather’s cabin,

a wooden slat box just

inside the unlocked screen door,

full of vegetables from their

market downtown, bottles

of last year’s backyard wine

on the steps, rained on

or sweating with frosty dew

and the smelt ran

for three nights straight,

the same three nights every year,

and the lake was darker then,

the trees thicker;

and they talked for over

an hour when he finally

ran hydro to the place;

talked about the two

light bulbs, and how many

moths there suddenly were,

their lanterns on poles

bringing the shoreline to boil,

more smelt than water after

a while, tiny bodies

stretching the nets

wine and shouting,

and my grandfather

wading in to help them

haul the load

a generation later came

the neighbour, Mr. Lough,

and the scientific method;

came me on the rocks

beside the beach, watching—

my grandfather long retired

from the nets, and

the Italian men moving next door

to comfortable chairs

in the boathouse, fire in

the oil drum, and every year

a new system,

and every year fish like prairie wheat,

fish like simmering rice,

fish like hoards of life trying

to swim to the moon

tonight, we step from the car

to find a small group

of laughing men

beneath the trees, young men

wondering how and old men

to make it happen;

still with wine and still

with vegetables, who remember

my grandfather like I never knew him,

young and thin

and not bothered by cold water

they know where to find the lights

in the shed; they light

the fire, and they spread

the nets, faking the moon

the lake hasn’t boiled in years,

and we could all lose patience;

we could stop briefly

knowing each other

soon we will stop,

when it feels right;

it doesn’t yet feel right