Sean Hill

Penumbra

Over the clerk’s shoulder, out the window framing
little old Bemidji, Minnesota,
nine guys, all knees, legs, and ease, glide by on bicycles,
occupying the frame two at a time,
pedaling along the sidewalk on Paul Bunyan Drive.
Each of them black and with me we make up almost one sixteenth
(like a measure in carpentry or miscegenation)
of the county’s black population. Trying to balance the equation,
my question looking for an answer. Family reunion? My long lost
cousins?

In this folktale I flashback to my walk yesterday
along the Old Indian Trail
(brown with leaf litter now that the snow has gone)
by the lake now brown and fluid.
Nine coots swim along the lakeshore paddling,
gliding with grace
(harmony of the firmament)
dignified black birds with white bills—
a constellation or a mobile
over a baby’s crib
and the baby’s reaching.
Reminds me of ducks
falling in line at the carnival shooting gallery
like that guy who shot his specimens with a gun
toppling with a ding
like the game show right answer
Who is John James Audubon?

And Eureka! I am displacement
when the guy in line behind me asks his girlfriend, “Did the whole basketball team
have to ride their bikes today?”

Here in the far north of the Midwest this is my shadow box life framed by the window.

Sean Hill

"Penumbra" first appeared in Gulf Coast 19.2 Summer/Fall 2007.

First posted on May 17, 2009 9:59 AM