Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Fantasy Poem about Frozen Lake Erie

The Frozen Lake, from Mentor Beach Park

Canucks and Yanks Crossing Frozen Lake Erie (a fantasy)

As if it were December 31, 406 AD all over again--when
Vandals, Alans, and Suebi, barbarian hordes, my ancestors,
Swarmed across the frozen Rhine--
The Roman Empire on the way to falling.

January 28, 2014, coldest winter in decades,
Lake Erie frozen from Toledo to Niagara Falls,
Catawba Island to Put-in-Bay to Point Pelee,
Cleveland to Rondeau, Long Point to Presque Isle.

And what happens? The barbarous Canucks seize their chance,
And start walking south, many with dogsleds,
Some on 4-wheelers or skimobiles,
None with passports.

The Canucks want liberty, cheap consumer goods,
Affordable housing--they want respect and status as North Americans,
Real Americans. They want warmth and sunshine.

And swarming north are Yanks, equally barbarous,
Also without passports, some with snowmobiles, dogsleds, 4-wheelers,
Wanting good health insurance, humane cities, less poverty,
Less vitriol, more kindness, more, what? Something else . . .

The Canadian frontier, where if you wanted, you could amble
Through wilderness to the Arctic,
Walk to the land of the Inuit and polar bear--
To the North Pole, for God’s sake.
Where imagination has fewer limits--or so they think.

The arduous trek is 2 hard days minimum, more like 3 for most.
And after a day and a half of the hardest going imaginable,
Over frozen waves, domes and ridges of ice, across
This bitter cold desert,

The Canucks and the Yanks meet in the middle,
At the invisible line that nation states draw
Through mountains, prairies, and Great Lakes.

They set up tents on the ice, 2 feet of ice over 70 feet of water.
They trade slugs of smooth Canadian whiskey
For thermoses of hot coffee. They trade dreams, aspirations.

They find that they are not that much different, those hiking north
And those hiking south. They are equally barbarous
and equally noble humans,

all aching for something better.

Robert M. Coughlin/January 2014

[I've had some second thoughts about the initial draft of this poem. So I changed a few words (so the "barbarous" Canadians are not waking across the Lake for guns!). This takes some edginess off this poem, but makes it more reasonable, I think. The poem grew out of 2 short poems that I wrote many years ago about the frozen Lake Erie. One of those poems ended with the lines: "I could walk to Canada / If I had the imagination." Well, this poem takes that imagination a step further! I tried to pair up this story line of walking across the frozen lake with the historical fact of the Germanic ("barbarian") tribes crossing the frozen Rhine River around 406 AD, leading eventually to the fall of the Roman Empire. I use the term "barbarous" ironically, of course, to describe both the Canadians and the Yanks.]

"Mea Culpa," O Canada, for that first draft!

No comments: