The river welcomes us
with soothing songs
it sings the whole night long.
We balance like high-wire artists
on a mossy log
and reach the other side.
We’ve got here just in time
before the forest closes up
with growth run wild,
before the rivers slow to a crawl
and the mosquitos settle in,
when only a few precocious
dogwoods are in bloom.
They say the first green is the finest.
That’s me nodding by the fire
from too much Yukon Jack,
boots toasted by the flames,
and that’s big, brawny Bo
roasting squirrels on the coals.
Here’s full-bearded Bryce
firing up his antique lantern
and incinerating several trees,
wide-eyed Horace finding the rubber snake
we planted in his sleeping bag,
bare-chested Bill singing in an icy waterfall,
the children catching crawfish in the creek.
There’s Junior shining a flashlight
in the eyes of the stoned college boys
who have stumbled into camp.
Confronted with three giant black men
decked out in camouflage,
they drop their beer and make a run for it.
Holy shit, they cry, it’s the Marines.
And the through-hiker, skinny bastard,
living for weeks on fungus,
sleeping under a plastic sheet,
but not too proud to eat our stew.
Yes, I’ve been down this trail before,
but never in the rollicking company
of so many ghosts.
(originally published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature)