photo: ralph murre
Stilt Walking the Upper Peninsula
by Gillian Nevers
By the time I thought to wake you, the stilt walker,
black rain pants billowing in the wind, was behind us.
His lumbering figure receding in the rearview mirror, his
day-glow yellow knapsack disappearing into the west.
It felt like a good omen for the trip east—this lanky boy,
grappling with gravity along the shoulder of a highway.
So much so, it made magical sense that a deer would stare
at me from the side view mirror, until the interior went dark and
a blur of brown passed over the windshield. The thud, then tear of
hoof etching furrows into the roof ringing in my ears—Oh,
please God, let it be dead.
You walked to where the deer lay and stood, as if in prayer,
a black silhouette back-lit by semis barreling through
the morning fog, before dragging it off the shoulder and rolling it
into the ditch.
Sheets of rain slashed across the road, slowed us, rattled
our nerves, all the way to Montréal. We missed our exit.
Took the next one. Relieved to be off the labyrinth of merging
lanes and ramps, found our way to the center, to our shabby hotel.
If our room had been in the French hotel across the street, if
the sun had shone, if you had read the street map. If we had not
wandered for hours, arriving at the Marché Jean-Talon too early,
the Jardin Botanique, too late. If the Mexican restaurant beneath
our room had closed at midnight. If rain had not followed us
Vermont, chased us through , swept us back … New York
We drove in silence, the rhythm of windshield wipers a metronome
keeping time with our thoughts. At night, in each anonymous motel,
we talked about the deer, as if it were a child we failed to protect. Maybe
it was only stunned. Maybe after we drove off, it struggled to its feet,
ran into the woods. “Maybe,” you said, “the deer was no more real
than that stilt-walking kid you say you saw.”
About an hour out from Ludington, the rain stopped. Still,
I couldn’t shake the damp, stood on the deck watching
the ferry’s wake, wanting the sun’s heat. You came, stood
beside me and read from the Detroit Free Press, “Stilt-walker
says trek has shown him Michiganders at their best.” Neil Sauter,
a Blissfield resident, with mild cerebral palsy, completed
his 800-mile trek across
Blissfield. Maybe, we should go there some day.
~ previously published in Verse Wisconsin