This Lake Has No Name | Poetry | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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This Lake Has No Name

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Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

With shoulders drenched by cannonballs

men fought to give you their name-

their names now lay beside sturgeon,

and spars that were charred by flame

their beards are tangled in milfoil

their eyes stare into green, and we

now praise your luster, your glimmer, your hills

without asking for your name.

We did not dream above your petrified whales,

while sawing trees and nailing ash to cross

your inland sea. We slipped our ships around

Cumberland head- such was the northern dream,

to round Valcour, the Four Brothers,

and ultimately Ticonderoga.

The men of the west were painted and brave

they chose their friends based on their enemies,

the men of the east were painted and brave

they chose their enemies based on their enemies-

Algonquin, Iroquois, English, French, Black

American, Quebecois, White American, Canadian,

all based their enemies upon themselves,

and fought to give you their names.

We say the cormorants have invaded, while you

recall when well bred sheep and the potash trade

denuded an old growth watershed. You dislike

tasting paper pulp- enter clandestine zebra mussels.

Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

Women walk alone on brick beaches, bricks

from a wreck that foundered in your storm.

Ice fishermen pull steaming trout from your body

and grand children stand on ripples of sand

while your whispers wrap ankles in sunlight-

yet we do not know your name.

Granite hills and crumbling fortresses

embrace the new leviathan,

puffing poets praise themselves, and the rich

their charitable contributions to you.

Your waters are the blood of glaciers

your gar the serrated spawn of monsters

we serve at your pleasure, you are not of us

-and Samuel de Champlain is dust-

while murmuring souls turn in your waves

to blossom and curl and uncurl

like fiddleheads in May, like tears

in a beard, like a baby’s tongue-

innocent of words;

and only they, and only melting bones can know

the shibboleth of your true name.

Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

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