Mead Lake, This

meadlakefull

Published November 2007 | Centennial Press | Milwaukee, WI | 38 pages

Out of print

Mead Lake is a small, manmade lake in central Wisconsin that doesn’t have much to recommend it.  It’s shallow, parts are still clogged with dead trees from when it was initially flooded in the 1950s, and in summer the algae turns the water a disconcerting shade of green.  Yet, it’s always been an important place to me.  My grandparents owned a cottage on the lake while I was growing up, and through probably the strongest instance of kismet in my life, it turned out my best friend’s family also owned a cottage on the same small lake.  So I’ve grown to know Mead very well in my life.

In 2004, several additional friends wanted to begin a writing group, and we decided that Mead was sufficiently far away to allow us to concentrate on writing with minimal distractions from our daily lives.  We write in many genres and about a disparate array of topics, but we continually turn to the lake itself as a source and subject of inspiration.

The poems in Mead Lake, This are maps of the lake, reports of the weather, and arguments with the wind.  But ultimately this is a chapbook about love, tracing the relationships between the speaker, “you” (a current lover), and “her” (a former one).  The poems explore how love can flourish then burn like poison ivy on the berm of the dam or echo like the afterimage of a shooting star.  A few poems from the book are below.

In 2011, Mead Lake, This and State Sonnets were part of a review-essay by Erik Richardson in The Centrifugal Eye.

* * *

mead lake, this afternoon
weathered, desiccated oak leaves
are still attached to the branches
of the lone tree on shore.  the leaves
hold to the branches or the branches
hold to the leaves, who’s to say?
in time, the ice will try to make them water.
your laundry is slowly crawling
out of the hamper and back to your body
just to smell you again.
* * *
feeding ants to minnows
on the pier, we were talking about gulls,
how they bob on the lake
like vociferous styrofoam cups,
how they mean that summer
is ending.  you don’t like
summer ending, and you don’t like
calling them gulls,
they are seagulls, and in fact
they are not seagulls at all;
rather each is the chalky headstone
of a tree broken on the shores
of november.  i say the lake
is over a hundred feet deep,
so the gulls must lay the latticework
of ice.  you say i’m making that up.
four days ago, with my friend,
i spent an hour in a sandal-deep river
feeding ants to minnows
for no particular reason.
they were voracious as a black hole,
harassing the crayfish,
confident in their universe of stones.
back on the pier, gulls squawking, you
reconsider.  one hundred feet
might be right, you say, then
i wonder what it must feel like
to drown.  i lead you to the edge,
take your hand, submerge your palm
gently as baptism.  like this, i say,
and draw you toward a deep kiss,
sucking air hot as august from your lungs.

* * *

walking the bachelor's avenue bridge

it was new year’s eve when she said she was leaving,
her eyes popping like spangled balloons.

eight days later, i came to mead lake
with my best friend, and we drove snowmobiles

hard and fast as comets. then years
sank under the duckweed, a mosquito

bit a small child’s thigh. today i walked
the bachelor’s avenue bridge, hearing

the hoofprints in gravel, watching the skitter
of blue-winged teal in the swamps. she said

lots of things i don’t remember, and so
cars cough curlicues of dust

and swallows razor their flight to a nest
beneath concrete struts as i straddle

the rusting south eau claire river, heels
grinding stone, on an arrow named after a man

for whom the road signs, green and certain
as algae, extol the virtues of dying alone.

* * *

wind from the west

in certain transcontinental storms
strong and showering as steel,
some birds forget how to land.
storm birds, they’re called,
irregulars, navigating into a city
of trees for which the atlas
of clouds is unwritten.
so she perched on my little finger,
perfect as a parrot, feathered
in neon baby-doll tees.
summer nights when you came,
west wind, she would play
the aeolian harp of our veins,
strings vibrating like a blister
of bees, rustled by almost
next to nothing. in a picture of her,
i am trapped in a laugh
lit by light you must have blown in.
her teeth, big and dumb as windowpanes,
suck in air like ether
through her smile. you knew her mouth
better than i did, so now
only you may speak of that cave
with albino fish ghosting inside it.

* * *

the names on the signs off south lake road

at the end of a trip that blossomed like thunderheads
then fell into petals of rain, today i walked
the circumference of the belly of mead lake.

the logging trails all barked like dogs, the gravel
pale-red as dusk ticked beneath my boots like a geiger counter.
—i wish you were with me, and i imagine you

wheeling the humidity as you chant the names
on the signs off south lake road: hoffman;
jacobs; hofslein; swan; trierweiler; staut;

larson; schultz; then mittens, letters lacquered
on a hand round and white as bracket fungi
alive on a certain staunch elm. i would like to trespass

through each silent cottage, the way i trespassed
your lips during our first botched kiss, your mouth
tight with not yet. on the drive home,

i will ruminate on language, and your breath
thick as peat while you sleep, exhaling syllables
lush and liquid, circling the shores of our bed.

* * *

mead lake, this evening

nothing. no moon, no wind,
no sky. just a few pricks of light
on the opposite shore and the feeling
of something fine in the air:
maybe mist, maybe more air.
the ice is either there or it isn’t.
once i told you a story
about the constellation cygnus. tonight,
i can see swans in the lines
of my palms if i try.

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