In winter, once the ice on the lake is safe,
a group of local ice-fishers build a town
with houses, streets, a store, a tavern—
all the necessities—then move out there.
By day they wait for nothing they sense or see
until a line goes taut like a sudden thought,
and someone lifts a flash of silver
out of an opening in the surface.
With darkness, things are otherwise. Then the lights
that glitter on the shore they have left behind
amount to a new constellation
born in the lowliest part of heaven;
then sometime neighbors head to their tavern, where,
because they know the season is all too brief,
they stay up later than they mean to,
playing guitar, trading stories, drinking,
and feeling how expansive it strangely is
to have it all come down to this makeshift town
then, closer, to this point, this tavern
crowded with music and light and voices.
Past closing, now. The bartender, bound for what,
for the time being, is home, recollects the stars.
Out of a pocket near his heart he
fishes a flask of the local moonshine.
There is a dark below and a dark above;
The fish are darting stars, while the stars are schools
that drift so glacially their slightest
movement plays out over generations.
It is a private vision. Around him sleep
his customers and friends in their home-spun homes.
He takes a measured swig of liquor,
grimaces, grins. It is nearly daybreak.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 10, on page 30
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