David Plumb

 

Canoe

I don't want to canoe with alligators,
although the man who told me he does
assures me itís safe and it's only a ninety minute
drive north. The same place where the alligator bit
the boy in the head, simply chomped down
and dragged the kid off with his father whacking away
with a stick and all the insanity he could muster.

Now, I can tell you about crossing a narrow
river in a mahogany canoe in Chiapas
poled by a small Lacandon Indian, who welcomed us
with the simple words, "You have come"
There was the soon-to-be-fat missionary
and a couple whose names I forget thankfully but
remember because the woman took off her top,
jumped in the river and swam naked
in front of this Indian, who looked upon her chalk white breasts
with interest, no doubt, or was it disbelief
while I turned my head in rage and shame.


Just off the coast of North Vietnam
we took six prisoners, stripped them naked
on the teakwood deck of our U.S.S. Newport News,
the largest cruiser in the fleet, with its
nine eight inch rapid-fire guns.
They stood small and shivering, shitting down their legs
while sharks tore their comrades to shreds below
and when I leaned over the side, a piece of still
alive man floated by until the big blue sunk it's jaws
into a shoulder and shook him like a rag doll
tearing ragged flesh loose while his screams screamed
terror I'd never heard before, but then a Chief
Boatswain nearby, was quick to say,
"He must have been an ensign.
He's got his assed eaten out

The ferry crossed the river near Zapata, Mexico at sunrise.
Sky and brown land as clean as any terra cotta
painting and the water stark and smooth against it.
The brown men in straw hats poled,
the stupid woman Julia and I hooked up with
wore a mini skirt and tank top, passed out
bon bons to the pole men as they poled
while her long faced boyfriend waited for the speed
to crank him up so he could drive.
Later she said she hated Mexicans and he said,
"Well did you get what you wanted?"
to Julia and I, after we made him drive
us to San Cristobal in the middle of the night.


I'd like to tell you about the J stroke, the one man canoe
maneuver we learned in scouts and the scout leader
who became an Indian in a canoe of torches crossing
the October Mountain Lake in the summer dark,
to bestow upon, I can't remember who, the Order of the Arrow.
And the clunky rowboats my father rented
on Cheshire Lake to take Richard and I fishing
for pumpkin seed, crappie, perch;
fish so small I often felt so sorry for them
after we got home that I buried them in the back yard
beheaded and skinned in a box or a tin
with a twig cross stuck in the dark.

Way before I could swim, I shelled
the fluff-filled milkweed pod,
wedged a toothpick seat across its beam
and set it in my wobbly childhood brook
to sail to some forever dream of mine.


John Gaines and I fished Jamesville Reservoir
for dreamy monstrous pickerel on heaty July
nights after work. John, the only friend
who wrote me in Vietnam,
the only one, and I, I wrote him
from a bar in Guam, to the Orange
Cafe in Syracuse, a simple postcard saying,
"Fuck you from a fisherman," that
I talked a white-haired lady into mailing
before I ran to catch my ship.

But I come back to this alligator thing
because I live in Florida and because
my first lover Barbara wrote from Maine
in the dead of winter to tell me how she
likes the outdoors, the camping (in a tent)
she says, hiking, cross country skiing
and canoeing, yes, canoeing in Maine,
where it seems serene according to her stack
of postcards and pictures of herself looking
quite terrific as a grandmother and she
insists it was enough to just have me call
out of nowhere, to remind her of her childhood,
mine and the way we swam in each other
to get a way, find a way, love away the
damned ships we came in on, and are on.


How beautiful she seems, how easily I imagine
she and I edging along Kezar Lake
in an incredible sunset, in the silence of
what we are, in some semblance of honor
and majesty, in the forgiveness of murderous
days and unforgiving nights. Is she in front
or back? How I gaze, how I stare at
the photographs and the canoe,
which I imagine is red,
or maybe blue, yes, blue is ok.


Whatever it is, I need more of it
or less, or a chance to think
on this cool March day, free of snow,
about what might have been, is,
was or might be what I'm less inclined
to be torn apart by. Something I can
point to finally, with some
sense of truth and say,
"See here, see here."