This far from shore
we are the largest measure
of ourselves, standing on deck or out
of the cold in the one cabin,
where a wall displays Lake Champlain
at its worst, no memory, it seems,
without loss and high winds.
Essex dwindles, its window lamps
a residue of horizon, the vague
Adirondacks above clapboard and tar shingles
smoking after rain. A bell sounds.
A plaque names this ferry the third
in a long line of crossings.
Our wake trails behind.
The wind in our faces.
It is April here. The sap runs
and snow turns to mud. The lake rises
to lift us all the old saw says
though we pay something
to stand here suspended
in our shoes, the diesel thrumming.
The bow cuts us toward low bluffs
riddled with birds,
and I worry how we will
line up, the wind shifted sideways.
I have a name, a map.
From here it’s all I’ve got to go on,
the pilot drifting into the dock,
a road dropping down to lead us someplace
we’ll discover soon enough.
James McKean has published two books of poems, Tree of Heaven (Univ. of Iowa, 1995), which won a 1994 Iowa Poetry Award, and Headlong (Univ. of Utah, 1987), winner of a Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writer Award in poetry. McKean teaches at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (updated 4/2004)