River Scene ~ Thomas Reiter

Here the bottom falls away, a man

in Mackinaw and ski mask

cranking an auger into the Mississippi 

tells the man and woman watching him,

and in his fifty years of ice fishing

the river has never let anyone

come out this far.  These two step across

a pressure ridge, bantering.  A cicatrice. 

No, a caulking bead.  Ice mole, they agree. 

While back on shore their friends—like them,

home from college—gather driftwood

for a reunion fire.  The only open water’s

a streak in the center of the channel.

I know a story about the river,

he tells her.  Back in the thirties a drifter

chased onto the ice by rail-yard bulls   

fell through, and the following spring

the sheriff dragging the bottom hooked

something that tossed his boat around

like a plastic bob until the line

burned through his gloves and he let go.

From here they can see the new ice making up.

Imagine, she says, how crystal

by crystal the lattices form, hexagons

and stars linking and layering, some

tearing away, lost, while others grow

by stronger valences to narrow

the actual black of current:  a beauty

that leaves them frightened.  They link arms

feeling the river pull its weight

to draw them out.  Someone calls their names

but they’ve forgotten the shore,

its being something other than the river. 

Who are those waving us toward them? he thinks              

aloud, then has to laugh at himself.                                             

Who are these coming back? she replies,

They say nothing more the rest of the way,

though once or twice each turns

to look back at where they’ve been.

They join the others around driftwood aflame

with talk of majors and required courses.