‘Billerica, Midnight’ by Jean LeBlanc
Jean LeBlanc is an Assistant Professor of English and Developmental Studies at Sussex County Community College in northwestern New Jersey. She was raised in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and still identifies as a New Englander with pride (especially, as she writes, “being so close to various New York sports teams that shall remain nameless”). Her poetry has been published in numerous journals, and she has published several full-length collections. Learn more about her writing and books at www.jeanleblancpoetry.com. This poem is from an unpublished book manuscript, “Skating in Concord,” which includes many Thoreau and Alcott pieces. This poem refers to the boat trip Henry took with his brother John in 1839, the basis for his classic book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. John died in 1842, and the book was published in 1849.—PM
We begin to have an interest in sun, moon, and stars. What time riseth Orion? Which side the pole gropeth the bear? East, West, North, and South,—where are they? What clock shall tell the hours for us?—Billerica, midnight. – H.D. Thoreau, journal entry of August 31, 1839
Rowing out to the island, rowing around
to find the best spot to scramble up the granite,
slippery with needles from the pines, laughing
at the suddenness of being there, being far away
from the known world—how could you not
fall in love with that boy whose arms were brown
from weeks of summer? “We are being watched,”
he whispered, arching an eyebrow to indicate
the school of fish just below the surface.
All you heard was his breath close to your ear.
A little campfire would have been nice,
but would have attracted attention from shore.
Better, then, to unroll sleeping bags
and watch the lights come on and dance
across the lake, and the moon rise. Better, then,
to sleep. You both would promise to do this again,
maybe next weekend, maybe next, and on
through the years. Every time you look up
into a winter night and see Orion dominating
the sky, you think, Maybe next summer,
if not back home in Ashby, Fitchburg, Ripton,
Billerica, Concord, Hollis, if not there, then
another lake, another bed beneath the pines,
another moonrise, another school of patient,
watchful, knowing fish and stars.
—Jean LeBlanc (c) 2014