—Erie Canal, June 2021
Sitting side by side on the open-air upper deck of the Colonial Belle, inches away from the bow of the boat and thick ropes lying in loose coils near our feet, we settle into a straight-away view: this world of narrow transport, of calm water and evening’s reflection . . .
To be present in twilight unfolding, we listen and watch and take in the steady glide of the boat heading East. The canal itself is tranquil, even with this tour boat pushing its slight wake soundlessly over the water; nothing moves in a hurry, not even a scatter of herons poised on fallen branches, eyeing the water’s mercurial surface for a sudden flicker of fin and tail. The stillness fills our lungs and we breathe in the rhythm of the boat, in the rhythm of the live music playing, in our willingness to be among like-minded people, who came here to float— without worry or agenda— only the desire to be a part of this getaway.
Getting away— away from what’s always a shadow in the back of our minds— hovering over us with the weight of the world’s weariness, we can barely speak of what we can’t shake. We can’t say we’re bored, can we?
Where are we going? I listen to small conversations happening next to me, across from me, behind me. You, sitting starboard, can’t hear anything, except for something I may say to you. You’re happy about this. You don’t want to be in on anyone else’s conversation. You want to pretend that we’re alone. The loudest conversation is behind me. Not captivating, but full of bad news. She drones on and on. I can’t stop hearing her, even though I’m concentrating on the shape of trees and sky full of headstrong clouds. Her companion doesn’t say more than two words, but those two words allow her to continue spooling—confident that she has a sympathetic ear, which isn’t mine.
“Low bridge,” the pilot calls out, “keep seated.” We sink deeper into our plastic chairs, waiting to pass under the bridge. The sudden ear-splitting quiet makes me aware of everyone paying attention. Once we clear the bridge, the woman behind me resumes her monologue: “I don’t understand why she doesn’t want to see me—I am a good person— honestly, I am.” Her companion doesn’t make a sound. The word honestly hangs in the air like the spider web spun between the bow’s red rails. Something I hadn’t notice until now. Something so elusive yet intricate— a set trap.
I’ve been caught. I am not a good person, eavesdropping on a conversation that is as pointless as it is deadly. I feel the night’s chill rising off the water. I deserve this cold shoulder. The pilot turns the boat around in one sweeping motion. Thirty minutes left. We head West, back to where we started; only now the sunset is breaking through the dark billowing clouds. It begins to rain lightly. Small drops plinking down—everywhere— but not touching us, not exactly.
M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 32 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.