At doctor camp, the teenagers wire up their lungs
and trigger monitor beeps by holding their breath.
All summer I chaperone, carrying the old coin purse
you shipped from Alaska, cracked leather packed
with unspent change and a quarter-sized bird
carved from caribou bone. Without nightfall,
you can’t miss me. Your fear earmarked for bears,
for the haunted lakes. While you drift in icy breakup,
I eavesdrop on my students telling ghost stories—
A headless woman rocks in a chair in a patient room.
When I ask if they’ve ever seen a decapitated body,
Jamie nods: he and his dad on the Ohio, bass fishing,
pawing their tangled net, and Mary something,
the missing girl, the one from the news—
Her calves were like the blue catfish we threw back.
We sit with the med school cadavers, plastic-veiled,
these overcast islands, and I can’t help but think
of you, standing in a flat-bottomed hull
with your lantern and your oar like a boatman
who might return home to ferry souls for a fee—
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Robertson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.