Central Avenue Beach

by Adrian Matejka

Adrian Matejka

—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016

Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes

& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before

them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before

the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore

like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed

posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.

Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.

Listen to the Sand
Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes

of themselves
like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow

warblers clustered
up in the middle
of knotted branches

like a hungry chorus
in these perfectly
paused trees. Even

at night, the birds
grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.

In the day or at night, central is centr?lis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.

After the canals & their creaking locks
& the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,

the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
& unrepentant shore. After gravity’s

insoluble gears pull all of this water away
from Central Avenue & back to the center

& the fish swim away from shore through
the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways

way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
to swim in circles all day & get no further

from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
on the edges of the dunes. The same

frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.

These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.

Last updated September 23, 2022