Anne Shaw

Crossing to Chebeague: December in Casco Bay

For Anne Porter
Driven for once below deck, I watch
as the snow spins down, squint
at pines in the distance: the thaw
is a long way off. A little smoke leaks
from the houses. The water fills with snow.
The cabin smells of diesel fuel
and wool. These, then, are the islands
from which you launch your life:
actual fishermen glancing, thinking stranger.
I think of you crossing this water
before school every year,
of your father bringing back groceries
dressed in his big gray coat.
From Japan you send me paper
pale as a luna moth’s wing,
stamps with warblers, a card
with a tiny deer. All I can read
are the numbers
, you write
from Kashiwa. I get very tired of using
only the smallest words: ‘Japan
is a good country; Japanese people
are nice.’ There are goats across the street
that I stop to talk to each morning.
They eat their fill from gardens devoted
to radishes and green tea
. The engine heaves
through the water. Which of these islands
is yours? We scrape past houses built
at the edge of a cliff. One road rings
the island. Your whole house smells of books.
The stairs to the attic pull down by a string.
We cut the tree in the evening, talk on your narrow bed.
I sleep near the woodstove, wake when the fire
goes cold. In the morning, sun comes slanting
into an old red chair. I dream you are curled
and reading, there where the windows
face south. This is our ration, I tell you, your dark
hair made more dark. Ration of sunlight, spent
in a sun-starved place.

Anne Shaw
“Crossing to Chebeague: December in Casco Bay” is from Undertow (Persea Books, 2007), and first appeared in The Cresset, Lent 2002.