Dead. Cold. Clear.
as air. Pure
as ice: it takes 180 years
for water to leave this basin,
says the limnologist on the radio–
if your nose were fine enough,
you could draw a cup and taste the musketry
of 1812, the ashes of Toronto.
The lake remembers more than we do:
Blood rinsed from a tomahawk,
carbon from the Cloquet fire,
iron ore in the bowels of the Edmund Fitzgerald,
the smell of Norwegian pancakes
from a cabin on the shore of Isle Royale in 1927;
the acrid taste of taconite,
the stink of bloated lake trout, stench of burning
pyramids of sturgeon. Potato peels
from Louis Agassiz’s Harvard expedition
in 1845. The heel of a moccasin
awash in Two Harbors
in the McKinley administration.
The webbed feet of a fish duck
at the mouth of the Big Two-Hearted
River, right now, paddling.
A beer bottle tossed
from a party barge last night
in Murray Bay. Sawdust
from the last great white pines
of Grand Island
logged in the 1960’s
and ferried across, section by section,
on this very lumber tug
tied to the dock
and leaking diesel.
+ James Armstrong
In September of 2013 the author sent us a signed copy of his book of poetry, Blue Lash, with the inscription “Best wishes to Rabbit Island artists and writers!” It was intended to be included in the Rabbit Island Library–a wonderful gift. This poem alludes to Lake Superior’s immense water retention time and spare nutrient load, and is delightful in its transcendent imagery of the passage of time. The poem is republished here with permission from Milkweed Editions. Thank you to both author and publisher.