Maple Lake: A Sestina by Caroline Johnson

Maple Lake: A Sestina

Walking on frosted landscape, we hike alone.
The crisp January air melts our bones
as we make our descent to Maple Lake
with sunshine and tracks in the snow.
Slowly we reach the river of ice
now covering a home of native fish.

Even in winter men search here for fish.
Despite storms, they are not alone,
drilling holes and auguring through ice,
huddling in small shacks to warm their bones.
They sit and smoke and watch the snow
softly stroke its print onto the lake.

I follow you out onto the lake,
thinking of how young boys catch fish
here in May and June, and how the snow
keeps falling, each flake wet and alone.
I wonder if bluegill have cold bones
as they swim below the ice.

I take a step onto the ice
now covering frozen Maple Lake;
the wind seeps through my bones.
I think of what happens to the fish
when winter comes and water alone
is not enough to fight the snow.

You begin to skate on top of the snow
and leave your skid marks on the ice.
I turn north and leave you alone,
looking out upon the frozen lake,
a deserted moonscape except for the fish
which turn inward, embracing their bones.

Who knows how deeply it goes to the bones,
when skin starts to wrinkle and hair to snow,
and men grow wisdom as they begin to fish,
balancing each moment on bright skim ice,
hovering between reality and myth, the lake
a reminder of each lifetime alone.

Yet we are not alone; nature calls our bones
back from the lake; we listen to the snow
and petrified ice. Beneath us swim the fish.

by Caroline Johnson, first published in The Chicago Tribune, August 10, 2012.

Editor’s Note: The repetition of the sestina form is well-served by the description of a winter walk and the narrator’s relationship with a companion. The last sentences closes the story with ongoing movement (such is life).

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