“Lake of the Woods” By Crystal S. Gibbins


I believe in fate of the shoreline—
cattails shattering into seed,
turtles tucked into burrows,
their three-chambered heart.

Let the loons lift. Let the past recede
which owes nothing to memory.

Nostalgia is a ghost lounging around—
mucking things up.

I believe ephemerals:
a love story,
a knave of feathers,
a choir of reeds.

I believe in the lake, rolling us back
into the drift toward an island
we knew ourselves bound for.

Let pines stripped of bark fade to grey.
Let leaves rattle dry like fractals in the chill.



Driving North

You are drawn to the lake
as if it waited for you to return,

as if the continent leaned north
itself and you had no choice

but to follow the ruts and washboard road.
Now, in late August, somewhere

along the Canadian border trees grow
like hooks, the last dandelions molt,

wild asparagus waves its ferny head
to claim no one has driven this far,

but you know what time and weather
will do with every leaf. The endless

rubbing of water on broken glass.
Every season has its cruelties,

yet driving north makes you
forget the questions that weigh

upon you in your mind. How instantly
suffering stops—you don’t have time

for guilt, nor care to remember the way back
home, because there is always something

larger than you, liquid, unlived, the lake
wide spread, drifting away from shore.



Fish House

You sit warm in the dumpy fish house drinking Folgers, jig the icy minnow that’s below in utter dark, and wait for a walleye to suck the hook. You peer through tiny windows—not a tree in sight. Everything is white outside. Snow is everywhere and you almost forget about darkness. There is not enough snow in this world, you think. But it’s getting late. You must gather your line and turn back. You step outside and glide across the black ice toward home. For a moment you don’t feel anything at all beneath your feet, until the ice slips under you. You hear a faint crackling. The lake opens. Surges. Recedes. You think of the newcomers—and even a few locals—who’ve vanished forever beneath the ice. You remember how the cold hard mouth of the world yawned and swallowed entire pickups, plows, fish houses. Nothing exists except terror and the void. No matter how many times you’ve lived this before, you fear you are doomed. Water bubbles up. You must be careful where you step, for the ground doesn’t crumble, but turns slushy, ominously spongy. You exhale the ancient chill. You find a toehold and continue crossing little slopes of snow. 

Crystal S. Gibbins grew up on the islands of Lake of the Woods, Minnesota/Ontario. She is the author of the full-length poetry collection NOW/HERE (Holy Cow! Press) and two poetry chapbooks. She is also the editor of Split Rock Review and her work has been featured widely in literary journals, such as Prairie Schooner, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Minnesota Review, and Cincinnati Review. Crystal earned her PhD in English from the University of Nebraska, with concentrations in 20th and 21st Century American Poetry and Environmental Literature. She lives and writes on the south shore of Lake Superior in Washburn, Wisconsin. For more information, visit her website at https://www.crystalgibbins.com

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