South, on Elk Lake
all the other stands have closed—
after the vendors have swung
the shutters down, and padlocked
the grates, and walked up the lane
to the main house, to see what's
when there's not much traffic,
when clouds high above the lake
catch the last rays of sunlight—
there's one place that stays open
most of the evening.
past the concrete bridge, then watch
for a stretch of black locust
along both sides of the road.
Get ready for a left turn,
take the first drive toward the lake
and you'll see it on the right—
a shadowy sort of platform
set back in the second growth.
When you walk that way, crickets
will stop, then start up again.
It's on the edge of a bluff
with a good view of the lake.
Seems like it's always been there—
a thick, rough table nailed up
out of some old two-by-fours.
The selection is first-rate—
a bushel basket of beans,
bunches of beets, summer squash,
yellow tomatoes, limas
in the shell, maybe a few
The day's prices
are drawn with a green marker
on a piece of torn cardboard
duct-taped to one of the poles.
There’s a White Owl cigar box
for you to make your own change,
and a lead sash weight on top
so the bills won't blow away.
You'll find a few paper bags
wedged in behind a cross brace.
Help yourself, take what you need.
There might be some radishes
or fresh-picked sweet corn, six ears
for a dollar, spread on sheets
from yesterday's newspaper.
With luck, you might even find
a stack of sunflowers—huge
and shaggy, their speckled seeds
spilling across the planks—for
whatever you’d care to pay.
Can you leave anything there
for others to help themselves?
You’ll see that, too, every now
and then, down at the far end—
a paperback book, a jar
of honey, some blueberries,
a decent Petoskey stone.
Or a few ox-eyed daisies
in a cut-down milk carton.
It's a way of doing things
that's been going on for years.
Next time you go down that road,
stop by and see for yourself.
No need to buy anything.
Take a moment to stand there
and listen to the crickets
and look out across the lake.
It's lovely in the evening,
with the lights on the far shore
and the first stars coming out.
© by Jared Carter