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The Flowage

by Julia Klatt Singer

I am skating across the pond

from my grandmother’s cabin to

my grandfather’s.  I don’t know

how this came to be, his cabin

east of hers, on the other side of the pond,

just that it is.  Nearly a mile by pick-up truck,

half that on foot through the woods, and skating,

only a few moments away.

When I am older I will hear

the story about how she threatened to kill him

with a cast iron frying pan

and instead he grabbed a saw and hammer and

started building the place across the pond.


The ice is clear.  I watch

the grassy weeds trapped mid-dance.

Deeper, a fish slow and curling. 

Stumps pierce the surface—

this is the flowage, a flooded forest,

and eerie wooded watered world.


He waits for me at the pond’s edge.

Doesn’t wear a jacket, has been chopping

wood.  Red plaid shirt, open to reveal his

long underwear, khaki chinos, steel-toed

boots. He smells of whisky, woodsmoke

and water and underneath, something

soft, like moss, like the floss of milkweed.


You had your breakfast?

We both watch the smoke

from my grandmother’s chimney,

like a needle stitch the sky. 

I shake my head no.

He grins at me, hugs me close, says,

Girl, you got the bug in you too.  Can’t stay

in, now, can you, my outside girl.


He is liquid and languid.  His words

move like a slow stream, trip and babble.

He has taught me to fish; to cast, to hook

to net.  He doesn’t mind when I say a small prayer

for each one we catch.  Nor the dandelions I pick for them

as he guts them.


He presses silver dimes

into my palm and tells me that when my hands

are bigger, the coins will be too, if I can hold

onto them. With thick fingers and his spit

he removed a fishhook from my shoulder

telling me the story of a crow

who swallowed a lure and with the trailing

line wove a net to keep his children safe.

Asked me if I could see it?  The net above the trees

his hand on my shoulder, I gazed skyward until

he placed in my hand the hook

that had been under my skin.


After my father’s death I will learn

that this man is not my father’s father. 

Like the pond that isn’t really a pond,

I skate across it.  Will never know all that is

underneath; only some secrets

like fish, surface. Others stay frozen in place

and time,  are seen only through

the translucency of love.