by Dave Larson
Bonnie says the pram’s too small
And rocks such that she’ll soon fall in.
Just getting her into this boat tender
Was an adventure. She’s not sure
This is OK. What about sharks?
Making no wake, we are cruising in
My father’s boat, it’s a whaler.
Center cockpit, 18 feet, immaculate
The outboard motor a little too large
But it goes like hell.
My father is like that.
Salt marsh channel, half-tide and on the rise
Our heads level with the marsh flats
Bonnie sees two snowy-white egrets, a mating pair, they
Stab the shallows for lunch. I throttle back
To let her watch them. Mid-afternoon
We are still working off the breakfast
My mother made.
This salt marsh and channels have seen
Uncounted boats of all description.
But none so majestic as the schooners,
Handiwork of old Lewis Story
And his sons. Boat builders, and
legends in these parts.
And Burnham, whose crews of stout
Carpenters, labored by hand on the muddy
Shores of this Essex River.
They all wore bowler derbies
And fulsome mustaches
You had to have ‘the look’.
Bonnie’s more at ease, though
Still a little tense, unsure, head
On a swivel, to see the danger
She knows is out there, everywhere
These sea birds might attack.
My college friend, she’s city-born, a creature
Of the canyons of New York.
Never on the ocean, doesn’t like bugs
Thinks this eastern shore must teem with sharks
Convinced that Jaws is waiting to dine
On her specifically, little Bonnie.
The channel shallow, the bottom
easily seen, what is that moving?
A fish! Bonnie sees a fish!
Swimming beside our whaler, like
A pilot, guiding us out to open water
I tell her, Yes, they’re out here
What if we get into trouble,
Or run out of gas, or a hurricane
Suddenly rises up out of the depths?
Or, our way lost, we drift
‘Ferchrissake!’ But, immediately,
I regret my tongue. The woman’s eyes
Flash at the disrespect. Bonnie
Goes to church.
Now Bonnie, I grew up
On this shore, in these salt marshes.
I know every channel, every turn.
Which course dead ends.
Which way leads to deeper water.
Which channel takes us home.
My friends and I, we rarely wore much more
Than ragged jean shorts, boat shoes
Wild mane of youthful hair
And a tan.
One had to have ‘the look’
Or face teenage derision.
We pass our old neighbor
Heading back from his
Early morning fishing. His boat
A nicely kept wooden thing
Always varnished to a mirror gloss.
He holds up a fish, and smiles at us.
Which cheers Bonnie up,
Knowing that others have gone out
And come back to safety
Without incident, and even
Happy about a fish. She’s more
Relaxed, her body language says.
Open water, but I follow the buoys
‘Red right returning’, and pass other
Boats, always port to port
When we meet head on, still wary
People can be foolish. Are foolish.
A small flotilla of boats is
Beached up the back side of Crane’s.
Frolickers worship the sun. Bikinis
Always catch my eye, the best thing
That ever happened to girls,
We reach the small beach
On the small sand spit.
Not enough land to call it
An island. This beach was
Always a favorite of the kids
Cuz no one cared what we did.
Like drink beer with girls.
Tide rising, we beach our craft
Tie up to the ancient timber that
Has lain on this remote sand
All my life. We kids thought it
A mast, the last remains
of a sailing ship from down east.
Its just a railroad trestle.
Bonnie wanders down, hesitant
At first, to be so small and alone
On strange sand, looking out on the
Scary sea. The feral critters
Must already have her smell
And are coming this way.
Unpack the lunch my mother
Made up, despite my pleas
Not to worry about us. But she is a
Daughter of this shore, and
Knows we’ll be hungry. She’s fed
The kids a thousand times.
Bonnie is scared of sunburn, which
No matter how much goo we lather on,
She’s sure will happen, in spite of the loose shirt
My sister gave her. Sis knows a fair-skinned city girl
Will burn right quick.
We stroll around our private Eden.
She’s wearing a pink bikini.
The shirt now ditched, my girl
Lets the sun shine down on her, still
Skinny at twenty-one, such pale skin
Such a small bum. I can’t keep
My hands off her. Flat-chested still,
Sun going down, tide turning, I load up
The whaler with bag and lunch box.
Coil lines, and stow them exactly the way
My father insists. Dad’s particular
About such things.
Shoving off, more difficult than expected
The tide fell fast, I am slightly aground
Much heaving, she floats, I climb aboard
Turn the key, always happy
To hear the outboard roar.
Always a little doubt
About starting the outboard.
Where’s Bonnie? Just a moment ago
Standing nearby, but now
Is not there!
But standing ankle deep out on the bar
At the far end of our beach, out
On the spit, like she’s walking on water.
Bonnie stares out to sea, her arms raised
Hair gathered on top of her head
Feet planted in water, she turns at the waist
Towards my call, head thrown back
Even from this far distance
I see joyous eyes, her broad smile beaming.
My breath catches.
She has perfect teeth.
Her father an orthodontist
Is particular about such things