Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets

It's summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort 
on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish, 
part of my job, along with luggage, firewood, 
Sunday ice cream, waking everyone 
by jogging around the island every morning 
swinging a rattle I hold in front of me 
to break the nightly spider threads. 
Adlai Stevenson is being nominated, 
but won't, again, beat Eisenhower, 
sad fact I'm half aware of, steeped as I am 
in Russian novels, bathing in the tea-
brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe 
as it swims from the island to the mainland. 
I'm good at cleaning fish: lake trout, 
those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout, 
I can fillet them and take them to the cook 
and the grateful fisherman may send a piece 
back from his table to mine, a salute. 
I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets, 
sure they won't sting me, so they don't, 
though they can't resist the fish, the slime, 
the guts that drop into the bucket, they're mad 
for meat, fresh death, they swarm around 
whenever I work at this outdoor sink 
with somebody's loving catch.
Later this summer we'll find their nest 
and burn it one night with a blowtorch 
applied to the entrance, the paper hotel 
glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern,
full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are, 
that drop like little coals
and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees 
into the night of the last American summer 
next to this one, 36 years away, to show me 
time is a pomegranate, many-chambered, 
nothing like what I thought.

From At the White Window by David Young, published by the Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 2000 by David Young. Used by permission of the Ohio State University Press. All rights reserved.