Summering in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Amy Benson


[Table of Contents]
[Editor's Note]

I want my ashes to be scattered here. This is as close as I get to belonging.
      But I have no right to this place since I have not stayed with it, listened to its every tremor—its final exhalation before ice crystals bloom and spread inside its chest, and its shudder as it starts awake into the rough pain of shattered lungs and the horror that is any birth. I have accepted only its sweet, deep breaths of June, July, August. The summer air is dizzy with oxygen, wide-open stomata, and examples everywhere of how to blush, pull yourself up, and live. I offer the word "home" and this place snaps it easily in half and hands it back. My tributes are not acceptable: I have not yet learned constancy.
       I was just a "summer", gone on Labor Day. But I knew locals, like this boy, sparkling-eyed, quick-tongued and work-formed, a local who stayed. Sure, a week here, a week there, sampling some other place; but he has seen, yearly, how the trees here slowly strangle their own leaves, and the leaves, forsaken, fall. He has seen the forest undressed and shivering. He has seen ice settle, making everything look beautiful and drowned. He knows how the water cannot resist becoming unlike itself—swelling, giving up its carefully guarded islands so easily in winter. He knows every sky and ground he could be sandwiched between. He remembers the buds that broke and spread easily with the confidence of those with no memory; and the buds that slunk surreptitiously into an ambush; and the forgiving leaves unfurling themselves again, undone by their hope and love.
      I have made the mistake of thinking a place is about my pleasure. A place simply is. It claims you, if you’re lucky, if you stay. This is as close as you get to belonging. You accept your place, all of it. And you breathe like you’ve never breathed before—through new, dying lungs.



Amy Benson's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fourth Genre, Quarterly West, Mid-American Review, New Orleans Review, Pleiades, and Sonora Review, among other journals. She grew up in Detroit, but spent her summers in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the Saint Mary's River and is completing a manuscript about her experiences there. She now teaches creative writing at Northwest Missouri State University where she also co-edits The Laurel Review.