A LAKE, SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2013, 3:13 a.m.

by John McHugh
We stumble through the dark,
     navigate over mossy roots,
oaks blocking out moonlight,
     the soft earth patted down 
by the people who came before me,
     who, I imagine, were also laughing,
also terrified of pushing these
not-strangers, not-yet-friends, away
with one bad joke, one misplaced
     hand on a shoulder, but here, 
the asylum of dark woods, his hand guiding
     my undiscerning body 
I remember how just ten minutes
     ago we were eating sandwich cookies 
and apples with cinnamon, their tart juice making our
     fingers stick, speaking with our mouths full,
as we joked about each other, our professors,
     how we love to camp but not really,
every laugh another slice of apple to eat,
     and I noticed our dynamic distill to silence,
the creeping curiosity only a secret can coax,
and we arrive at this pier at this lake
     in the middle of these woods, the moon
a spotlight for a soliloquy 
     and I can’t remember my lines,
the dark water lapping onto the banks
     like a promise, or a white lie, and I remember
     those caves in Mexico 
- who told me about them? wait, it was him - 
     the legend of how the natives
thought these fantastic pools of water were portals
to a netherworld and you can never return
     to the person you used to be
before diving into the water,
his hands grab my shoulders 
     and spin me around and around, 
       every time he touches me 
is another daffodil opening, 
and someone says Look up
     and the stars are rippling water 
in moonlight, for a moment 
     I forget where the lake ends
and the same-colored sky begins, 
     then great camera flash of
white light, and I lose all my senses,
     my balance faltering and those same hands
push me
      an entire field of daffodils 
           bloom to life, golden flowers for miles
     I hear an echo
          of the world I just left,
     and as I come back up for air, I see all of them
strip down, dive off the pier and swim next
     to me, and I’m laughing 
floating in a netherworld,
baptized in dark, starry water.