Great Lake

1.

Because he only came here to swim
across a lake
                        with no tributaries, no river
out; earlier he felt he must have won a lottery

of trees, languishing on the end of a wharf-
the view from there: two boats, three clouds
a red rope on a green lawn, horses tied to a

roadsign (LAKE ROTOITI 7km), a sheet of
white paper, his hand moving across this.
As it stands, he stands by the lake. Alone as

alone is beside her. Their last wish, their
gravestones be inscribed: LOITERING IN TREES.
A trout stream only inches wide passes

the bedroom. In spawning season, 400 trout run
at one time. As much as to ask-how many lakes
can you swim in
                        in one afternoon? A blue heron

walks along the wharf, finds a man has taken
her perch, then retreats. Now he is rowing
a dinghy across this calmness which is the

exploding of calmness. Clinker-built fifty years
ago, the dinghy was restored by a local Maori
carver-his weekends devoted to boats-to

the smell of varnish and trees, its perfection.
To row across the bay, teapot on the transom, never
to return, he says, because there is no returning

and because the other side of the lake is a blackness
containing all appetites. The pattern of swallows
over water, the smallest of waves maintain this distance
                                    carry it to you.

2.

For the years of their marriage, a husband afloat-
his swimming a daily conversation with the lake-
gave his fail wife the clinker, her vessel.

The years turning, as oars in water-a bay taken to
swans. Returning to Tapuakura one year he almost
set Moose Lodge on fire while the Queen was staying

there. Burning off rubbish next to the summer
pavilion, the trees took to it. To impress her
majesty
, he might have laughed. To impress her

majestically! The fire brigade kicking around
the trout stream; blaze under control, but not
theirs. How many mishaps can you fit into a poem?

Once wearing a silver bracelet on the left arm was
believed to be a woman's charm against seduction
bedevilment. He listens to feet crossing the foot-

bridge, someone diving into the far side of the lake
the gentle rocking of the Great Canoe, pegs grasping
a yellow line, the black of his hair moving

in the rain and wind so. And if you asked why he
writes this: because the trout each year always
find this tiniest of streams, splashing uphill

at night through watercress. Because a single love
is more than you could ever fit in a poem. Under
the weeping palm, there is the one he misses

a place he carried her-a great lake or lesser.
He is land-locked, with no known source, no house
to live in-only a lake

                        beyond a lake.

3.

The morning the owner of Moose Lodge died, they
knocked on the widow's door, had come to retrieve
the canoe they had given as a gift. Carried

the hull back along the shoreline. She asks what
he means by his gifts
                        the formality of words. To lie
beside you is to be made rich.
As if a tributary

could empty a lake. To talk with you is to study
a bird that sleeps in flight.
As one might leave a
generous wife to share an empty dinghy with shadows

as electricity wires bypass the old houses on
the lakeside. Another great lake, he thinks, to haul
this vessel out of. Details of our life move around us

like moths. The same time every morning, he watches
a youth with a revolver firing a succession of shots
into the colony of gulls on the wharf. The birds

in waves, take flight. Then it dawns on him:
the youth is firing at the gaps between gulls. To
hit none, the perfect score. He says you should ask

before using the dinghy. Because it belongs to her
and because she will let you use it anyway. It will
reach the distant island if your hands can reach

that far. A man leaves teacups around the edge of
the lake where two swans gather their young, as he
might gather regrets, steer them towards the water

watch closely as they swim out. A carved warrior
the shape of a violin sits above a meeting house, a lake
of roses. Children lost from sight, chased across

the marae by geese. A voice from the beach:
            So you are the writer. Well, what do you write?
As soon as the rain begins, it has never stopped.

This! The great lake standing out there on one
leg, confounded by birds. Home, a bucket of wine
trout smoking in the warm drawer. A great or lesser

lake he has to lose. He studies the altitude of
lakes, their attitude. The middle of nowhere: a
public telephone. This ache that returns.

To plant trees on the water's surface would be
nearer it. Trout leaping out of the blue bring him
to this. Asleep on shore, a dinghy wrapped in swans.

            And because I only came here to swim.

 

From Great Lake, LCP (Sydney, 1991)