Taking the Boat In after Dark

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Out on the black lake
alone in the Whaler,
the wind picks up.
Thank God I brought a flashlight
to color the buoys,
tell black from red.

My spray-wet chart
curls up into cold uselessness.
Black shadows of islands
creep past in the night,
all lights extinguished
this time of year.

Off Moon Island I miss a black buoy
enshrouded by the night
and hit a rock.
The Whaler scrapes free,
prop still turning.
I trim the motor
and slow down to a crawl.
Doug calls my cell.
Take your time, EJ, he says.
I’ll be at Walter’s.
He gets it.

Inching along past Diamond Ledge,
invisible to port,
past Perch Island,
invisible to starboard,
I struggle that last mile
to spot the glinting mirror of Squam River,
black as a minnow’s eye
amidst the whitecaps.

It feels grand to stand up,
to brace my knees on the console,
whirl the silver wheel back and forth
to thread its meandering channel,
overtaking each floating oak leaf
in a gentle heat.

The marina’s deserted by now.
I moor the Whaler next to some jet skis,
the water so low this time of year
the dock is a climb.

At dinner with Doug’s wife
we hide our stains–
our palms emblazoned orange
from hauling in the chains.

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