Luci Huhn

Explaining to My Nephews How the Lake Turns Over

I don’t like that they’re headed down two highways
in opposite directions, away from me, their cars
packed to the gills. I never liked how the oldest one,
as a toddler, corrected my pronunciation while I read
Babar the Elephant, as we sat together on a kitchen
barstool. He sang then in a deep, flat way
like a frog, that song our kids all sang about
a Baby Beluga, or a song he made up on the spot.
I never liked how he looked up at me and talked as if
he knew I would listen forever, or how the younger one
still looks at me as if I’ll say something he needs to hear.
I don’t like how I brag about their jobs, their degrees,
as if they had clawed their way back from the dark
fringes of adolescence. As if they couldn’t be just
who they are. I don’t like that one of them
is over forty, one of them pushing it.
I remember the day each of them was born,
their mother working harder than anyone should
have to work. I have an aging aunt, perhaps the last
living person who remembers the day I was born.
It was cocktail hour, I prompt, time to turn on the news …
I don’t like that she hasn’t much to say.
I think it’s my job to know their stories, as if
the oldest nephew would sit wide-eyed as I tell again
how I canceled my plane ticket to hold him
like the finest catch. Or the younger one, that I
rushed to catch a plane to meet him, towhead
squirming in his mother’s arms in the hospital-
blue room on the third floor, as my grandmother
lay dying in pink sheets on the fourth, her hair
like a doll’s, tight to her head, her mouth open
to pass on her last lesson. I didn’t like how my aunt
slept on the floor of that pink room that final
night, tripping the nurse who navigated the dark,
scaring them both half to death. My grandmother
would remember the day I was born. She was good
that way, she held us up to a fence to hear the sound
cows make, taught us to lift a leaf to find a raspberry,
to place it in her basket, not our mouths. I don’t like
that we barely know what’s behind us, much less
what’s ahead. I don’t like how their cars are
packed, rear-views obstructed by fishing gear, duffels,
lake rocks their boys painted on rainy days. I don’t like
how I know their wives best from Instagram
or how the smallest boy presses his head against
the pocket of my younger nephew’s cargo shorts
to hide his face, except for the one fish-eye angled
toward me. I don’t like that those pockets carry
less than half the world they once carried, train-cars
headed somewhere, a rainbow of chalk. I don’t like
the way I wedge a red cylinder-shaped block
into a blue square hole to get to know their children,
generation after generation of shyness, mine
included. I don’t like the windy week they had
here at the lake, waves tossing the big and small
barrels of their bodies, how the lake turned over
on my watch. That’s what I explain while I have them
captive, retelling the folklore of their births.
The lake heats up, perfect for a swim to sandbar,
then a storm blows from Chicago, a force
that flips deep cold into the shallows. We say,
the lake’s turned over. And the helicopter overhead
as we eat tacos, the sound that flaps and grinds
and draws all boy-eyes up in wonder, I don’t
like that they don’t know it’s searching shoreline
for a father who raced toward an upturned
kayak, into undertow. I don’t like the fog
in their eyes, thicker than I remember
from my mid-life summer days – fog of children
wanting to be buried to their necks in sand,
fog of car-seat buckles, purple fog of road.
I don’t like how the years turned over, the weeks,
this week – the whirl and surge. I don’t like
the pleasure or the pain of seeing two men
I’ve known longer than they’ve known themselves
drive off into the waves, waves crashing behind them.

Luci Huhn has poems in Ploughshares, Rattle, Leon Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, and Passager Journal. She was nominated by Leon Literary Review in 2021 for a Best of the Net Award. She lives and writes in Southwest Michigan.