First Day: Original Poetry by Michael Shirley

First Day

On the day we arrived at camp,
a snapping turtle, looking for a place to lay her eggs,
rested on the dirtpack by the wash house,
lying down like something from the deep past,
her ridged back unaltered from dreams of my childhood,
when first I saw her.

My son, on eager feet, halts panting at my side,
eyes wide at this new wonder,
as I hear my own father calling me, his voice eager.
"Look here," he says, pointing down,
and I, hand firmly held,
standing where memory and childhood meet,
inhale an air of water, trees, and sky,
as the turtle, ignoring us, moves scabrously toward the lake.

We finish unpacking the car,
ready for summer,
my daughter splashing in the shallows by the dock ,
calling for her brother to join her
as I untangle the fishing gear.

This is where I learned to fish,
sitting on one side of the boat,
my father on the other,
our lines still, waiting for perch or walleye to show themselves
in nibbles from the deepest part,
then bites, the rod tips pulling quickly down.
We set our hooks by feel
and reel in, one of us passing the net to the other
looking over the side to see what rises from the dark.

My son is not yet ready for deep water.
He casts his line from the bridge,
Where he can see the bottom
hoping a bluegill will strike the worm I've put on his hook.
I fish with him, memories of my father green around us,
in this first year without him.

W.B. Michael H. Shirley is Past Master of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and Leadership Development Chairman for the Grand Lodge of Illinois. He's also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. He's also a member of the newly-chartered, Illini High Twelve No. 768 in Urbana-Champaign. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.

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