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.