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SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

Mud Lake

by Ellery Akers

It’s been eighteen years since I camped here every summer.
Yarrow and phlox are thick in the meadow.
My thighs brush against spirea
and Labrador tea.
Peter is dead, who camped here with me.
Backswimmer beetles still scull in the pond.
Willows still shake in the wind. 
I miss this life.
I find my old pen, not much faded
from thirty years of snowpack and snowmelt.
Year after year I watched dragonfly larvae
climb out of the lake 
like shaggy pennies covered with silt,
hang backwards on a rock,
foam into glittering engines,
then speed off into the forest.
Cowbells jangled
as cattle moved through the meadow. 
After a storm,
mashed tiger lilies,
pollen floating in puddles,
pellets of melted hail,
and the smell of Mules’ Ears and wet dust. 
This year arrow-shaped leaves of Sagittaria
drift in the water.
Sedges begin to fill in the lake:
it’s duller, muddier.
In another thirty years it will become a meadow.
No one will remember the stars that blurred in its water. 

These lodgepole pines came up to my knees.
Now they’re twenty feet high:
their reflections wobble in the shallows.
I see myself drilling into the granite of my past.
I’ve never turned away from it.
None of it meant as much to me as these red firs.
I think back to when I had that health and strength:
sketching corn lilies in their sheaths,
wading through brush to get to water.
Digging up wild onions with my Swiss army knife for dinner.
Every evening a nighthawk boomed over the lake.
The logs are still covered with bark beetle tracks.
Dragonflies still flicker through the woods and land on my spoon.
I was so clear and sure:
I’d stare at midges as they swarmed in the sun,
watch a garter snake slacken and drop into the water.

My eyebrows are turning white,
even my pubic hair where Peter would rest his palm
as if listening. We made love by a brackish pond
as warblers flitted in and out of dead branches.
At night one white boulder blazed under the moon.
The constellations leaned down on their stalks.
Snow slumped off the pines and slid into the water.
Bug spray, mosquitoes, blackbirds, basalt.
Miles from the highway. Waking up in the morning
watching shadows of branches flickering across my tent.
I never thought I’d have years of sickness, being alone.
I never thought I’d want to slip back into my thirty-year-old body. 
I want to be that strong and ignorant. Smell pine needles and snowmelt.
Listen to an alderfly land on my tin cup with a faint ring.

—Winner of 2011 Poetry International Prize; reprinted here by author’s permission

SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

Ellery Akers

is the winner of six national poetry awards, and her poetry collection, Knocking on the Earth, was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Jose Mercury News. She is also the author of a children’s novel, Sarah’s Waterfall: A Healing Story About Sexual Abuse.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury