Poem of the Week | January 22, 2008

This week’s poem is “At the Lake” by Carl Dennis, which originally appeared in TMR13:2 (1990).  Dennis was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1939.  He has published eleven books, including, most recently, Unknown Friends (Penguin, 2007).  His collectionPractical Gods won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and he has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship in Poetry, and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize.  Carl Dennis lives in Buffalo, New York, where he teaches English and serves as an artist-in-residence.

At the Lake

Even if the rain holds off awhile
And our walk to the lake goes as we planned it,
It won’t be one of the famous golden adventures
Sufficient to pay us, when added up,
A fair price for our lives.
Just another of the copper coins
Doled out to us so far
Even if the geese are out on the water parading
And nobody’s throwing stones
And the fisherman, having caught enough,
Are willing to chat.
Maybe we’ll enjoy it more
If we tell ourselves we’ve been rewarded already
With as many good days as we deserve,
That the rest are extra.
Having savored the gifts of the work week
We’re ready on this day of rest
To see what the gods of rest are up to,
The geese and the wind and the fishermen.
Now we can try to imagine the people here
Before the settlers came to change the landscape,
What they felt when they woke to a vista of hills
Unmarked by towns, barns, and orchards,
When they found no traces of last year’s camp
On their return in spring to the clearings,
In autumn to the clam banks, in winter to the woods.
We can think of the elders
Seated at their camp fire as a storm blew in.
Time for them to tell the story again
How once their ancestors lived under the lake
And grubbed in the dark for roots
Until a hero happened to find the opening
And led them up through the rock roof
To hunt here, in the sweet light of the sun.