Like Dunking a Witch
Because the lake hasn’t frozen,
we cross on planks floating end
to end across the width. Some sink
to our thighs, soaking us. Invisible
in the gloomy water, these planks
take us on trust. Of course we’d drown
if we missed a step. Our heavy clothes
would drag us to the mud bottom,
where catfish raking for prey
would apply their sloppy kisses.
On the far shore we lie on the lawn
and dry in the weak winter sun.
We had to cross because the police
insist on questioning us. A child
fell down the stairs of a cottage
and complained that a terrible face,
hung moon-shaped in a window,
had frightened her. The police
believe someone conjured a ghost
to drift to the second-floor window
and peer at the hapless child.
They suspect me of composing
a chant to rouse the surly dead,
and believe you wielded that chant
with cunning and deliberate malice.
Crossing the lake was a test,
like dunking a witch. Success
means guilt, while drowning en route
would have cleared us of suspicion.
Or so the police try to tell us.
We laugh because the child laughs
at this foolish proposition.
The cops blush and drive away,
having muttered their apologies.
As the patrol cars creep along
the rutted gravel driveway you chant
a line or two of my favorite poem,
and a spirit big as an airship
fills the sky above them, chuckling
at their pale unmanly screams.