We didn’t know the word mean to remember
or that the lake of our childhood vacations—
Okoboji—was once Okoboozhy,
Which, in Santee Sioux, meant rushes.
The only rushes I remember were our bare
feet fleeing the dumpy cabin called Dopey
(all seven named for Snow White’s dwarves),
dodging sand burrs and bees, the minute Mom declared
the post-breakfast-half-an-hour-wait-to swim over.
These days Jill and I don’t speak our middle
sister’s name as often as we did the first few
years after she died at fifty-nine. But it’s the end
of June when we’d meet our cousins there,
so we call her back, her name thick in our talk
as the silken fluff from cottonwoods floating
over the water, like fairies we almost believed in.
The way we now try to believe in a clear blue lake
where we’re all bobbing up and down,
right this minute, beyond time, singing
“Travelin’ Man,” the song our cousin Dougie,
almost as handsome as Ricky Nelson, taught us.
We’d never walked on the shores of the Waikiki,
but figured they were like the Okoboji beach
stained scarlet by flame and flamingo sunsets.
Remember, Jill asks, how we’d save our allowance
for weeks and weeks for the souvenir shops
(sometimes called trading posts)? We loved
the plastic dolls dressed in beaded buckskin,
never reading the elegy in their lovely faces,
their eyes that opened and closed. If we couldn’t
afford them, we’d settled for other treasures.
Jill went for bags of polished pebbles,
Jen for a “turquoise” ring or bracelet.
Remember the year Jen chased a toad—
fat as a change purse full of dimes and nickels—
till she caught it and it peed in her palm?
Remember our shock when Mom let her
bring it home and make a house for it
in a window well? How could I not
remember the soft heart—or sense
of humor—that could stare into such an ugly,
ancient gaze and name it Dollface?
Who needed a prince-like travelin’ man
when you could hold in your hand
the living heartbeat of Lake Okoboji?