Leaving Leelanau


I am from Utah, born and raised,
but anyone would be amazed
to follow where the heron go,
or wonder how the salmon know
the path that has no right or left,
but their migration sure and deft
can take them where they do not know
until they find their home, and so
it was for me when I first saw
my home, my blessed Leelanau.

There’s magic in the setting sun
when viewed from west coast Michigan
atop the white majestic dunes
while west winds sing their summer tunes.
The vision seen from where I stood,
if I could freeze it there, I would.
She stood there on a sandy knob,
and in her hand a sumac bob,
with fuchsia ribbons in her hair
that fluttered in the evening air.
And even now I don’t recall
if either of us spoke at all.

We dated just a year or so,
more than enough for us to know
the tether linking her and me
made ripples in eternity.
But fate is cruel the way it leans
upon a man of meager means,
and when my Mom took ill, I knew
my time in Michigan was through.
The fingers on my calloused hand
were more than evenings I would stand
to watch the brilliant sun withdraw
from home, my lonely Leelanau.

These rural woods and golden shore
to her were not just home, much more
than sand was buried in this place.
Her heart was too. A quiet grace
infused her such that I could see
this land was her identity.
And if I pulled her tender stalk,
her roots would yield, but then the shock
that left her taproot bare and dry
would make her wither, by and by.

I called her late that fateful night.
She knew that something was not right.
I asked she meet me on our dune,
tomorrow in the afternoon.
But men like me can’t say goodbye
without an airtight alibi.
So by the morning light I wrote,
then went to hide a private note
where I knew she would find it so.
Then I would take my leave and go.
It said I had to go away,
I had a debt I had to pay.
It spoke of love just out of reach,
and lessons it would someday teach.
It spoke of things I do not know,
like where old broken dreams should go,
but did not try to answer why
I could not bear to see her cry.

I took the note to where we met.
The morning frost was clinging yet.
The sun was limping through the trees,
a bitter cold and biting breeze
made fuchsia ribbons flutter there
beneath the sumac branches where
I found a tethered printed note
that she hid there for me. She wrote:

“You spoke my name last night through tears,
with no regard for all the years
that spread before us if we choose.
If not, we must not disabuse
ourselves that this, our only chance
was just a thing of circumstance.

You think of me a fragile bloom
whose roots run deep, do not presume
I am incapable of change
when fate and fortune rearrange.
The North Wind learned my name last night,
with no regard for wrong or right,
but hour by hour his cutting gale
has taught me I shall learn to sail,
and with one gust, my petals freed
have left me just a naked seed
that’s fitted with a parachute,
I’m purposeful, and resolute…”

The writing there abruptly ceased.
My burning, hazy eyes turned east
for down below upon the page
were tears (I thought) of grief or rage.
But as my sight refocused there
a silent and reproachful stare
engaged my eyes and I could see
that she had softly come to me.
And looking back, as I recall,
neither of us spoke at all.
We both turned west, as if on cue
to take one final lingered view,
and stood there thirsty, drinking in
the last of our Lake Michigan,
while gathered there an autumn storm,
but somehow, something kept us warm.
And at the end of our reprieve,
she turned and said “When do we leave?”

Sometimes a home has walls and floors
with windows to look out, and doors
for keeping safe, and fires that warm.
A place to grow, or to conform.

A home can be a village, or
a forest hamlet, water shore
uniquely singing native song,
extending offers to belong.

But home can be a matching heart
when fate can’t pull the pair apart.
So even if we have to roam,
we’ll never have to leave our home.

© Kenneth Henry, 2015

Illustrated by the author’s amazing daughter.