Five Points, Vol. 6 No. 1Fall 2001
From John Hollander, “I don’t think form is the essence of poetry. I think all this other stuff is.”
Paddling in the Dark
The stillness of the lake contains us in our red canoe
in the defined basin of its waters.
It’s fall. We have harvested nothing I can name.
Moonshine lies on the water like bombazine
unrolled under an Indonesian sun. We can believe this
because physics and religion have taught us to believe light speed,
transubstantiation. So far, no one has pinned down will.
Vapor hangs like smoky remnants of thoughts, ethereal ruin of desire,
the desire of the lake to be air, the desire of the sky to be water,
the desire of my mind to be still and harmless.
If I have come to the water to be quiet, why
do I keep jumping ship to wander elsewhere down various roads,
the dream road my grandmother ran on toward me the way I’d never seen
her run in life, a dirt road in the distant past I travel by stagecoach,
stopping at the kind of inn that sleeps four or five same-sex strangers to a bed,
the road that led up to the drive-by nativity scene staged with real people.
Coyotes start up a binge of yapping, arguing about death, if it tastes more like steak
or neck bones. I wonder how many things that can kill you are also invisible.
We paddle for long stretches without talking. Finally
beavers break the silence and thwack their fleshy tennis rackets on the water,
furry Zen masters practicing the one Zen hand we all long for.
I can’t imagine death, the lake more like sleep or loss, like places purposefully flooded
where a villager in a black slicker goes out in a boat to find the family farm,
maybe a beloved barn buried under fathoms of water. Somewhere
beneath us in the lake there may be oxygen atoms that you and I have breathed,
that we may breathe again, with our without wanting to.
Who knows about will, the ebb and flow of control, like our desultory paddling
against the lake currents, sometimes against each other.
Either the vapor is the lake rising into air or the sky descending into water.
How much of a wave do we make, wrinkling the skin of water
that smooths in our wake.
We paddle languidly, nothing in the dark to hurt us, the future
circumscribed by the lip of the lake, the earthy edge a sadness
we can choose to pass at a perfect speed,
slow enough to savor,
quick enough to leave for good,
while the moon keeps spilling itself on the water,
waves upon waves,
and the distance—heartbreaking—
that its light has traveled to become liquid.