the museum of americana

a literary review

Three Poems — by Cindy Hunter Morgan

 
Sidney E. Smith, Jr., 1972
St. Clair River

He was at the wheel of the Smith
that day in Port Huron
when the bow got caught in the current,
pushing it into the path

of a downbound steamer.
A few weeks later,
he heard a barber speak of guilt
as though it were an insect.

Endless stridulation, he thought,
as the barber tilted the razor
away from the lump near this throat.
That summer was full of unsteerable days

stitched together with the relentless rasp
of insects.
He saw in the bodies of brown field crickets
the hulls of tiny ships

and heard in their rubbing body parts
the ceaseless grind of metal on metal.
He spent nights on his porch drinking Stroh’s,
trying to steer the sounds of insects

away from the home where his son slept
beneath deep blue blankets,
and where his wife drifted in cool sheets,
her hair fanned around her

as though underwater.
He thought everything was sinkable,
and never heard the music
of what was still afloat.
 
 

Rouse Simmons, 1912
Lake Michigan

                        “The Rouse Simmons was one of many vessels employed in the Christmas
                        tree trade and it is from this simple business that the aging schooner
                        derived its nickname, the Christmas Tree Ship….When it sank, the ice-covered
                        schooner went down with 17 crew members and a load of 5,000 or more trees.”
 
                                                                                                            – Benjamin J. Shelak, 
                                                                                                             Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan

 
Fishermen wondered why they caught Balsam and Spruce,
their nets full of forests, not fish.
What they hooked smelled like Christmas, diluted.
Each bough dripped with last winter’s tinsel.

Their nets full of forests, not fish,
men wanted trees to writhe and flip.
Each bough dripped with last winter’s tinsel.
Needles were pin bones of fish.

Men wanted trees to writhe and flip.
What they netted could not even float.
Needles were pin bones of fish,
every trunk an ossified spine, broken.

What they netted could not even float.
They caught what had already died,
every trunk an ossified spine, broken –
each one as tall as a man.

They caught what had already died.
Those trees were meant for Chicago,
each one as tall as a man,
but they were four months late for Christmas.

Those trees were meant for Chicago,
for families who waited on docks,
but they were four months late for Christmas.
The ship sunk in November.

For families who waited on docks,
what they hooked smelled like Christmas, diluted.
The ship sunk in November.
Fishermen wondered why they caught Balsam and Spruce.

 
 
J. Oswald Boyd, 1926
Lake Michigan

After the tanker ran aground on Simmons Point,
small boats gathered for days,

crowding like piglets near a sow,
suckling fuel — 900,000 gallons —

as the hull of the ship
almost rose and almost fell

with each swell of the lake,
as though almost breathing.

The men in the boats cut their engines
when they approached.

They stubbed out cigarettes
in the sludge of old coffee

and took what was not theirs to take.
Beneath the glare of the sun,

they rode their boats like hog lice,
mange mite, wood tick, stable fly,

every man a vector of disease, bloated
but still thirsty.

 

~  ~  ~

Cindy Hunter MorganCindy Hunter Morgan teaches creative writing at Michigan State University and is the author of two chapbooks. The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker won The Ledge Press 2011 Poetry Chapbook Competition. Apple Season won the Midwest Writing Center’s 2012 Chapbook Contest, judged by Shane McCrae. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, including A cappella Zoo, Bateau, Sugar House Review, Weave, and West Branch. The three poems included in this issue are part of a new manuscript she is working on about Great Lakes shipwrecks. You can find more about her at www.cindyhuntermorgan.com.

 

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