/j cumbie

A Wisconsin Message

You came to Petrifying Springs
for the schools of speckled minnows.

And here they are

in the cool, urgent current, unworried
arrows, their bellies grazing
the coin sized moons in the stream bed.
They scatter when you loom over the bank
to sink your hands in the water.
You wet your eyes, rub them open
to the sun blur, the stumps and verdure.

By noon you reach the green bridge
that takes you back to the parking lot.
You can already hear cars from a nearby road.

Looking back down the path, you regret
what you missed in your hurry: the springs
leaking out of the muddy hills,
the thrill of moss-fur under your fingertips,
the rumored flints and arrowheads, the Mercury
dimes and rusted horseshoes
said to be found underground.
You know your Dad is still back there
somewhere at the bottom of the moraine,
bending over a mound with your mother,
wiping earth from chunks of blue
Atlas glass, and you know your sister’s
Sunday clothes are daubed with mud,
her shoulders lifting, face brightening
under your mother’s attention.
They take the fork in the path
that leads further up the wooded ridge.

On the other side of the creek
you write a brief message in the trail register.
It doesn’t come out the way you thought
it would. So typical, to  write a prayer
for a time machine, but you don’t
erase anything, for once you leave it
how it is.

Land Of Lincoln

You did everything right. You strung
the poles, bought the bait and made it
by sunup to fish the bank facing the fork. Now
you drop your tackle box and watch it happen:
Two rivers, the Fox and the Illinois, merging—
each named for a tribe made to disappear
from here. You wonder if there’s some clarifying
message in their confluence. Whenever
you come here you listen for it, but there’s
very little sound coming in from the waters.
You scan the top of the bluff for the old
abolitionist’s mansion, then back down
again at the braiding current.
Last year you tried your luck further
downriver. It was a drag. Your son handed
that day’s scant catch to a gaunt woman
with dirty blonde hair carrying a baby
in a sling. She took the fish back up the levee
in a wet pillowcase. There’s a weathered
marker by the boat-launch that says this landing
was once a stage on the underground railroad.
You think of the dates on the marker.
The Civil War brewing, the Fox people
and the Sauk already driven out by settlers
to camps west of the Mississippi. You think of
the certitude of the abolitionist, a wealthy
timber and grain man. You think of
the fortitude of the escapees. You want to
feel good today, but trouble crowds
where your mind eddies. Turn over a rock,
blood wells up.


Jimmie Cumbie received an undergraduate degree in Theater & Drama from the University of Wisconsin and an MFA in Poetry from Bennington College. While at Bennington, Cumbie was awarded the Liam Rector scholarship in poetry. His poems and prose have appeared in The North American Review, Spillway, Meridian, Midwestern Gothic, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others, as well as the anthology, The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare. Cumbie lives in Chicago where he has been involved with the rich theater scene. His plays have been produced at A Red Orchid, Stage Left, Bailiwick, Voltaire, and various regional festivals.