Summer, 2022 / No. 49
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 a 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 a 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 hordes 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