Cal Freeman: “Ars Poetica While Reading THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES”


     Port Austin, MI September 2017

Rising levels in Saginaw Bay this summer have ruined the wooden stairs leading from the break wall to the beach; a tongue of rust rises to a high water mark not seen here in decades, an inscrutable ecological signpost.  A beetle scampers out of mud-dried kelp.  A shelf of stones thirty yards out veils a precipitous drop into green depths.  The stench of life is everywhere.

My mother-in-law tells a story of coming here as a girl and having to shovel mounds of alewives from the beachhead before swimming.  This book describes the lakebed as a field cobbled with invasive mussel shells and refers to those zebras and quaggas flushed from the ballast tanks of freighters as “biological filtering machines” that trick us into thinking the lakes are well.

A middle-aged woman rafts out beyond the sandbar, and her husband swims to deliver her a drink, some sugary rum concoction in a plastic water bottle, his ratty pony tail flat against his sweaty, water-kissed skin.  Off to the southwest, lapidary strokes of windmills mimic bathers soaking up sun and water in their plastic rafts.  Seagulls bark at each other in the foam, plucking gobies from breakwater, wounding them before dropping them in sand.

Bouts of animal behavior, this propensity for pure fun, different than joy or love, deleterious as mussels straining algae from fresh water.  Boats cruise the clear-as-glass surface.  Poetry, despite what has been written in the shadow of murky etymologies and unkempt epochs during the dull regenerative paces that compose our human time, is little more than a series of absurd acts of love we could never plan out in the morning or the day before at dusk—a chin cupped in a palm, a kiss, a cocktail waded through the combers.

Cal Freeman has had work appear in many journals, including The Journal, Drunken Boat, Pank, Passages North, New Ohio Review, and Hippocampus. He is author of Brother of Leaving (Marick Press) and a chapbook, Heard Among the Windbreak (Eyewear Publishing). His second book, Fight Songs, has just been released by Eyewear Publishing.

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