My soul, I thought, was myself imagining myself
a boy living beside a long and narrow lake,
narrow enough to construct a bridge,
but nothing on one side that the other side needed
enough to build. The boy had never been to the other side
and might never get there until he became a man and could drive
all the way around and then look back.
For the time being, the other side’s green slope, sweep of corn
and wheat patchwork right down to the scabs of shale banks
pulled the boy’s attention across, but he didn’t pay attention.
The fields and the shale, the other side, were just there, always present,
more like a soul. There while the boy biked or stopped
to visit a neighbor, or mowed the lawn on his side—
just another day; the other side, there; till one day,
on the lakeshore, closed in by dense fog, neither side visible.
The boy literally bumped into another boy vacationing on his side
with family, his last day there. The vacationing boy
is really my soul, I thought, not as I imagined.
The boy I thought to be my soul threw stones as far as he could into that fog,
told my soul that his stones traveled farther.
My soul said only, “Can’t see a soul is what I just heard.”
My imagined boy faced the cold wind, heard waves crashing,
and then, as if words pulled from out there, my soul continued:
“Today I overheard this story. Men around this lake used to disappear.
It happened when a man lost sight of everything that held him in place.”
This upset my boy more than he knew because he couldn’t see the other side,
and because he never heard that story and he lived there.
How come he never heard it? He picked up two more stones
and with all his might threw those into the fog,
said to my soul, “My stones reached the other side. Match that, sucker.”
My soul didn’t make things up or throw stones, just stuck to the story.
“When a man lost sight,” it said to my boy, “he made it seem
like just another day, made sure he was seen on a day just like his life was,
rough, foggy. Like today, just like the one we’re standing in.”
“And throwing stones?” my boy asked.
“Launching a boat,” my soul said, “fully-rigged, loaded down,
so that later, when the boat washed up empty,
word was that man drowned fishing.”
“Drowned fishing,” my boy told the vacationing boy,
“is what my father calls my mother’s religious searching.”
“The way I heard it,” my soul said, “drowned fishing meant an unending search
for a lost man which came up empty, which everyone on the lake already knew.
That man never drowned, just disappeared, got another start somewhere else,
along with a former life lived another life all over again with a new person,
another family, in a different state. “Like my mother describes a soul,”
my boy said, “but without secrets.” “I couldn’t live here,” my soul said.
“There’d be nothing to do but throw stones. I’d go nuts.”
It’s then the vacationing boy’s family’s loaded car pulled up.
I never saw my soul again, but when the fog cleared
it was never just another day again for the boy I thought to be my soul.
There was a man on the other side who drowned fishing, disappeared,
who had a new life with a secret. He pushed through rows of corn
grown around his house, high over his head. He stumbled through,
eventually into the clear, reached the road which a lot of people lived along.
Unlike the boy never had to, that man had to make it look like just another day,
so that everyone he ran into on the way down never suspected anything
unusual. Every day that man took the road down to the shale banks,
stood above the scabs and stared back, not at the other side, the boy thought,
but right at him, something like a soul. The man wasn’t looking at him at all,
instead thinking about a bridge, hoping they never built one.