Recovering the Sunk

Hastings Hensel

BPR 46 | 2019

The black river’s still surface,
like old glass, or, perhaps, a page
of revised fiction, was giving back
the world above us—
          the mossy cypress,
          the sky-set wisps
          of clouds adrift.

But what we wanted was way past that.
We’d snaked through the winter river
not yet full of snakes, and come at last
to what the map didn’t show
          was our secret place,
          a dark cove
          in whose bitter cold

we dove, scooting around
and grazing the bottom
until one of us, having found
the mud-sunk log, cried for the winch,
          which, attached,
          made the pontoon
          angle down

and the bubbles rise, and we called that
“the log about to show its face.”
For obvious reasons, I thought of how,
when they built Shaw Air Force base,
          they had to move
          a cemetery full
          of glass caskets,

and how could I not picture men
toting shovels in moonlight,
the dirt flung up, the icy sound
of a shovel blade nicking glass,
          or see the hand
          of the bravest man
          reaching down,

smearing away dirt? Or hear the scream
leap from his throat? Then a laugh
of recognition. Another laugh.
And when the last laugh dies down,
          that is the sound
          a mud-sunk log
          makes coming up,

its face not scary, only dense
and ax-hewn, like a pencil
on the river’s page. We hollered.
A cypress this big—damn boy,
          it would fetch us
          hundreds—no—
          thousands of dollars—

as good a day as any for men
who hadn’t chopped it down,
nor known last century’s heat,
its lumberjack’s-arm-thick snakes.
          Now was the time
          to go upriver
          to the old sawyers,

to wait six months before it dried.
In that time back then, we noted,
one of us would have died, then been buried
in a crude box made from yellow pine,
          an unmarked grave
          no hand would touch,
          not ever,

beside this river whose darkness
contains, always, the unrecovered,
whose surface is like a finish,
the glossy sheen we’d feather on
          for men not us
          to see themselves in,
          and feast upon.