Tug of War
The Minnesota heat lays
three blankets deep in the bunkhouse,
Sweat soaks my drawers and t-shirt, wets pillow and sheet.
I toss all night and long to be stitched shut in sleep.
I stare at the ceiling, hungry for a breeze off the fiord back home,
and wince at the lumberjacks’ snores.
The dark hours of midsummer wear me down,
it only stays light here till nine in the evening.
How I miss the midnight sun,
lingonberry red at two in the morning.
I smoke four packs a day trying to fill
this longing for Finland that steals my health away.
I’m too sick and weak to get out of bed,
and won't cook for the men tomorrow.
I mailed my pay to the family and
don't have boat money for passage home.
In the morning I’ll write my dutiful daughter in New York
and beg her to send me money for the trip.
I don’t know how Aili can stand it,
living across the ocean, not looking back.
In America, I'm homesick for Finland,
in Finland, I crave the freedom of America.
Two homes I have, yet I might as well be homeless,
always yearning to be where I'm not.
Small enough to hold in one hand,
made out of wood like the name, Eckman,
which means “man of the oak”,
shaped from two thin strips of wood,
each wrapped around an oval base,
the top compartment slightly larger than the bottom,
the two pieces nest together like hands intertwined.
Burned on the lid are his mother’s family name
and a date: Lervil 1841.
The butter box was a cherished wedding gift,
given to his grandmother, wife of a farmer,
never taken to the fields full of butter for noon day,
then passed to his mother. His mother gave it to him
when he made a first visit back to Finland in 1947,
it was the only thing Grandaddy had of his mother’s.
He stored valuables in that box:
a prize Herkimer diamond he dug,
a large black shark tooth he found
washed up on the beach in Venice, Florida
and several old Finnish war coins
with square holes in the middle.
I remember how I played with the box as a child,
sorted through its contents,
then put them back in the box
did it over and over again
and never tired of the game.
I never asked but in 1981
my aunt gave me
Granddaddy’s butter box
and Nana’s thimble
for something to remember them by
so now the box is mine.
It sits on my shelf,
Nana’s thimble inside,
two of my fondest treasures.
For Uno Eckman
Published in Topography Issue #2, Winter 2016
Date published: January 25, 2017