Fishing about in my brainpool for a suitable title and theme of my next poetry column, I hooked a big one. You know the beast, one of those grandiose whoppers that gives birth to legends. Despite the magnitude of its dimensions, it is a little odd as a subject for a group of poems, yet that has never stopped me before. In fact, it only seems to encourage me. And now that I think of it, perhaps it is high time for a column that is rather outlandishly off the track and around the bend. I do love a good venture into the Land Of Odd. Also known as Tinker Town, Bananasplitsville, Coconuts City, Cotton Candy Land, Crackpottersville, Battyburg, Madhatterton, Who’s Whoville . . . the kind of places I am most likely to write on a cardboard sign and stand beside the road hitchhiking to — in a parallel galaxy where mice are men and men are meeses, which are like mooses without the horns. Not that I am trying to give the impression I’m weird, because I am most emphatically not! Well, I am weird, don’t get me wrong, but that has nothing at all to do with lake monsters. Then again, you never know. I try to keep an open mind about such possibilities, in case I should ever meet a lake monster or be abducted by aliens or find a fly in my soup. I have found cockroaches in my soup, incidentally, although that is another topic entirely and would be more appropriate in a different column.
Don’t mind me, I’m just being myself, or as close to it as I can considering that weirdness doesn’t actually have an official description or dress code or hairstyle or shoe size or instruction manual . . . So how should I know how to be, and who can say how or who I really am? It’s a bit of a One-Size-Fits-All category. Weirdos are lumped under a single polka-dotted umbrella as offbeatniks. But you really can’t say that anything abnormal and out of the ordinary is one way or another, can you? Wouldn’t generalizing it be contradictory in a sense, when being weirdos would imply that we are very unlike anyone, including each other? Okay, this might be making too much sense for one of my nonsense rambles. I think I am dangerously close to coming to a point. Not a pinhead sort of point, the other kind. No, not the type you get when you sharpen a pencil. And before you suggest it, not a dot on a map either! Or a decimal point! Let’s just change the subject and get back to what we weren’t discussing in the first place, shall we?
Don’t ask me what that was. My memory is notoriously full of holes. Just picture the moon being made of Swiss Cheese. That’s my brain. It may look like a sponge but it’s not. It’s Swiss Cheese. Without the cheese.
I’m not sure where I’m going with any of this, because I tend to be a bit stranger than fiction, if you get my drift. And I do drift. Oh how I drift. But back to the matter at hand, which is . . . ah-ha, lake monsters. (I cheated and peeked at the top of the page.) Seriously, what is this about? It’s rather loopy, even for me. And not loopy in a loup-garou sort of way — that would be pretty silly since we’re supposed to be discussing a far less furry crypto-critter.
Well, who can be certain that werewolves and lake monsters are not related to some degree? If you think about it, lycans and lichens sound an awful lot like cousins, and everyone knows that a lichen is just a fluffy version of a waterlily. So who’s to say that a wolfman is not a lake monster’s hairy kin? One might in fact deem him a lake monster while he’s taking a bath. Never thought about that, now did you? Exactly.
Okay, I don’t want to appear flaky or crusty or even slightly crumbly. I am not baked goods. But I am going to make an editorial decision here, as opposed to poetic license, and bail on the afore-mentioned theme. It simply isn’t working out, so please disregard the title up there. And whatever I’ve said thus far. Pretend it never happened. I’m too lazy to start over. (Sorry, there are no refunds available for the minutes lost in reading the above.) We shall segue into something else . . . once I’ve made up my mind what we’re actually talking about. There must be a better choice out there, floating around in the ether like those squiggly blobs that swim in front of our eyes. We’ll pause and wait for it to splat us in the face.
Oh, quit your complaining! There are plenty of things to read that make sense! If you’ve ever been to my previous poetry columns, you must know that I do not always feel the need to go on and on about something. Going on about nothing can be very cathartic. It allows you to meditate; just be careful not to premeditate — that could get you into trouble. It could even be held against you in a court of law. Clear your head and enjoy the mindless emptiness of meaning that my column provides.
Where were we? Or rather, where were we not? Waiting? Right! I knew that.
Nothing so far. But we all knew that. Let’s see, where are we going with this? You may think it paradoxic to be going somewhere with nothing, but I assure you it is possible. Not everyone can pull that off. It’s a tricky proposition. Or preposition. Or premonition. Whatever. Now I have Déjà Vu and my head hurts from thinking too hard. You can’t force these things. They’re either there or they’re somewhere else. Who knows where? In a lake, perhaps.
That title is looking better.
There are so many theories on lake monsters, approximately as many as there are lakes. I could probably find something unnoteworthy to say about them if I really tried. It’s back to the lake for us!
If you’re still with us, that is. And if you are, maybe I’m not the only one whose brain is like Swiss Cheese. Just a thought.
Soooo, are you certain I haven’t scared you away with my frightfully off-the-wall drivel? It can happen! Now and then I scare myself away.
Ha, there, it just happened! Except I wasn’t scared, I fell asleep. After a nice nap, that title doesn’t seem so bad at all. I believe you can anticipate a few poems to do with, well, you know. It could even be the weirdest column yet. One can hope! One can also wonder . . . when you gaze into the lake, is anything looking back?
Beneath your reflection.
I’m not referring to fish.
A minnow is a fish. I said no fish.
Ditto for a bullhead.
And a catfish. Despite the whiskers. Still a fish.
Ignore the dead bloated guy.
And the Atlanteans.
Forget the Sea Monkeys. They don’t even live in lakes!
Noooo, clams do not count. For one thing, where are their eyes?
Crabs? Are there lake crabs? Yes, they do have eyes, don’t they? But I didn’t mean crabs, and now I am getting quite crabby! Nevermind, just nevermind! I withdraw the question. Read some poems.
She lurks in the drink, a sweet-water pet
The kind you might not be sure to have met
Elusive as Bigfoot, a popular myth
Every lake has its legend on one of her kith
A tarn in the highland became her home
When an oddity left Mother’s side to roam
She swam to the mountains and there would stay
Diving and splashing, a figment at play
For such fabled beings are like unicorns
Rumored and rare, yarns of tails and horns
Chimeric and lithe, a creature of whim
A fanciful mystery, a history most grim
For she ate a few chaps fishing from a small boat
When they reeled in her lunch, deep in her throat
And she opened wide to expel the trouts
But swallowed the men beyond any doubts
Their craft was discovered, an empty shell
Inspiring the tales that wives like to tell
As folklore would have it, she was fierce and sly
A man-eating monster, who was actually shy
And only ate people by a tragic mistake
Yet once was enough for the story to take
Her renown would be sealed, and the price of fame
Was losing her privacy, acquiring a name
The locals would dub her by the beast’s lofty lair
Mad Minnie for Lake Minnewonka’s fantastic bugbear
Her shore became crowded with goggling fans
The kind who sought snapshots of catch-as-catch-cans
Which drove her to the bottom of a frothy pool
Reclusive, notorious, inclined to drool
Unable to frolic, afraid to show her face
A very Sad Minnie would curl up at the base
Or glide through the depths like a submarine
To emerge at night by the moon’s dull sheen
If the coast were clear, using stealth and care
Tuned for beeps and pings, an unblinking stare
Then smack the surface with a jubilant tail
Make waves, cause ripples, lunge out like a whale
Giggling and capricious, a child in a bath —
Snorts of glee echoed as if on the warpath
Convulsing tree boughs and soaking the bank
Heaving caution to the wind with herself to thank
And spectators camped by the lake would arise
To shine spotlights in the poor critter’s eyes
Blinded, keenly startled, she panicked and dove
For the craggish floor of the alpine cove
Where her cranium collided on a jutting rock
She collapsed to the bed, very stunned by the knock
Blood spilled to the water and darkened its hue
Teams of science geeks jumped in, turning blue
Half couldn’t swim but the other half found her
Together they looped several lassos around her
The locals and gawpers all pitched in to raise
The titanic young dragon to resounding praise
They attempted reviving her; she lay cold and still
Was Minnie dead? Through the crowd passed a chill
No heartbeat was detected, no breath puffed to steam
They sat in a vigil holding hands with one dream . . .
By morning she was gone, having stolen away
And did not return for she’d swum far astray
Perhaps she was seen on another lake
In a distant land, sailing mists like a drake
Or flat and lengthy as a drifting log
To vanish by magic between gusts of fog
A solitary figure, stately and discreet
Moving like a ghost ship that lost its fleet.
The lake is still upon the surface
With nary a ripple out of place
Hugging her shoreline wrapped securely
In a glassen cloak of captive grace
As night solemnly joins land to water
And a mysterious realm can unfold
It is then the lake reveals its depths
Of emerald beauty, allure untold
Her mouth yawns widely to engulf
Any unsuspecting random spirit
If you value life as precious
You had better not step near it
For the lake heeds not your feelings
Waiting patient and subtle to imbibe
With a watery glimmer of disregard
Giving off a tender treacherous vibe
She can drag you squirming to her belly
Entwine your limbs in drowning plants
And paralyze with a frosty embrace
As your breath escapes in pants
The bubbles ascend to the surface
From a bleak and nasty underside
While you rue the fateful steps that led
Too near the water, this downward slide
Sucked within her lips and jaws
You cannot escape the foul wet bite
Of turbid teeth and hook-like claws
As she tucks you in for a kiss goodnight
The lake will drain your bodyheat
With frigid contact, she grants no wish
But will nibble you to bits and pieces
Until you are chum, the bait of fish.
It was a black lagoon beside a dead lake
Of ghastly sluggish waters from which protruded,
Like worked-to-the-bone fingers of a failed success,
The rotted extremities and stumps of trees submerged
In the changing tides of industrial climates.
Such trivial concerns long overlooked in the course
Of history, of centuries that marched in legions
Like armies to conquer flesh, harness fire and wind,
Unleash disaster from sky and summit, roar obscenities,
As if by dragonbreath or divine unholy wrath.
Laying to ruin the stormed barricades of stone,
The embattled ranks of wood and trampled stalks
That clung defenseless, rooted in soil shifting to sands
From down within the bowels of tormented earth, for nothing
Built or born, however imperious, was impervious to change.
Here lurked the truth, a confession of damming evidence
Stacked up in layers — sticks and stones, mud and corpses
At the bottom line of humanity versus nature and nurture,
Whatever kind of nature might be left in a grim age,
Beneath the surface of what was and what should be.
A creature evolved mad with full-grown enmity and eyes
Opened to the greed, the transgressions of those like him
On two legs who were not condemned by gills or scales,
By monstrous differences to exist apart, below the civilized —
If the destroyers of worlds could be so defined.
Emerged whole, crawlen out of a fetal griefstruck womb
Throbbing with the pulse of cosmic and poetic justice,
He swam then climbed the slope onto the inlet’s berm.
Resting there, testing appendages, he wobbled to stand
Upon webbed toes and stagger forth in the realm of men.
Walking on dry land with wet legs, he left a swampy abode
To trace a solid stream that trembled with a rushing current,
Until he must hurl himself to the side and watch
A ghost of man-driven metal rampage through darkness,
Orbs gleaming, expelling a stench of noxious fumes.
He curled, hunched and brooding, in terror;
Summoned by circumstance to embark on this ordeal,
The solo alien odyssey of passage, of transformation.
Suffocating, his resolve to search overwhelming,
He endured, beholding enigmas, struggling on.
The creature matured with a wild innocence
As he tread firm ground in confidence, conviction,
Crossing a desert of arid intensity in every direction.
Eyelids sagging, hooded by glare; the pace brisk at night,
He survived, a fish out of water, adapting to foreign land.
A city’s hulking skeleton loomed, rewarding labored steps,
An arduous journey of blistered feet and parchment skin.
Shrunken, diminished in the company of ravaged leviathans,
He peered upward at vacant towers, vertical wreckage,
To discover himself encircled, a ring of shadows.
They were the children of Pathos and Chaos,
The permuted metamorphic spawn of Progress.
They had gathered, drawn like him to seek community,
For it was an instinctive need of even the the most estranged
Or isolated soul, to not be alone in the universe.
Each one of a kind, without a species in common,
Rendered by a generic maker, the creation of abrasive deeds.
Curiosities, atrocities, with a variety of distinctions;
Unique, anomalous, none of them the same;
Kernels of warped matter, mutations of a man-made Hell . . .
Who were the real monsters?
Before you jump into a lake
You may wish to look before you leap,
For you never know what might jump out
Or be lurking in the murky deep.
Take care along the water’s edge
For a snapping mouth could take a bite;
There are many things that may go wrong —
I suggest you back away outright!
And it isn’t merely lakes to fear,
There are monsters lurking everywhere . . .
A stormdrain, river, creek, or shower;
A glass of water will cause a scare.
The greatest danger I’ve come across
Was in the humblest of places:
A puddle of mud on a plain dirt lane
Put my heartbeat through its paces.
I was minding my own business once
And splashed a foot into the muck.
You can imagine my immense dismay
When my shoe grew rather stuck.
It wasn’t that the mire was sticky
Or the puddle muddled with a patch of briars;
I stepped into a monster’s chops
And needed a pair of pliers.
She had swallowed my entire foot
And wouldn’t give it back!
I thought I’d have to learn to walk
One-footed from the lack.
I scrutinized my situation,
Then tried to reason with the beast.
“I need that foot!” I told her.
“So please interrupt your feast!”
I named her Bessie in order that we
Might be properly introduced.
She wasn’t inclined to release my piggies,
And I pondered how to get myself loosed.
She muttered with her mouth full
That a mudbath was no wishing well.
She may have said some other things
But I really couldn’t tell.
“You aren’t making any sense.
Don’t talk around your food.”
I demanded that she spit it out,
For the puddle-shark was rude!
“I’m attached to those toes,
And it’s my favorite heel.
They’re not yours to keep!
I mean, how would you feel?”
I carped, “It’s my best shoe too,
So I insist that you stop!
Give me back my foot, thief,
Or I’ll call a traffic cop!”
I shamed the ornery anklebiter
With a testy spew of grouching.
“And what are you supposed to be?
Stand up straight, quit slouching!”
She expelled my tootsie then,
Blatting in a snittle-fit huff
With tremendous indignation
That she’d heard about enough.
The cranky krakenous hybrid
Unreeled from her shallow slop,
Extending an endless profusion
Of eelish neck that ceased to stop.
Perhaps the height was finite,
But it seemed to climb forever,
Like a beanstalk to the heavens
Or an example twice as clever.
“I’ll have you know you stepped on me!”
A faraway voice grumbled.
“Let’s call an ox an ox,” she barked,
“And admit it was you who bumbled!”
“That’s a load of hogwashed nerve!”
My jaw hung open, catching flies.
“You’re jealous of me for being short!”
The retort evoked surprise.
“You think I’m envious of you?
I can write on the sky!” touted Bessie.
“I’m a big monster in a little pond,
And much prettier than Nessie!”
“You’re nothing but a hippocrite —
A puddle serpent with her head in the clouds,
Who dreams of swimming with the big fish,
An inflated pack of snooty highbroweds!”
The behemoth truly had it coming,
Yet it wasn’t very nice to say.
My words cut Bessie down to size,
And a salamander crept away.
Things can be muddled, horrendously confused
From life imitating art or death while we snoozed
Maybe all of our dreams are regrets in reverse
And the thoughts in our heads but a fairytale curse
Like a song in our mind that gets broken and stuck
At times a bad break can turn into good luck
Perhaps a fish named frog isn’t nearly as crazy
As trying to see truth when your lenses are hazy
The world is like a pearl in a shiny oyster shell
With naught guaranteed between Heaven and Hell
There may be woolly monsters or a clump of moss
What we pull from the hat could be an albatross
Just stay out of the water when you jump in the lake
And don’t ever say never or the earth might quake
It’s the fine print of rules that will drive you insane
These fishes named frogs are purely inane.
But you can’t plant a violet and push up a daisy
Or jump over the moon if you’re feeling too lazy
The sky may be overcast on a clear blue day
A clam could be sad, yet a lighter shade of gray
And you’ll never stand taller than the bird in your eye
You cannot walk much softer than the heart of a pie
A fish on your shoulder as you gargle out of tune
Means your voice is froggier than a yodeling balloon
If monsters had middle names and goldfish dreamed of legs
There’d be urchins in the pond hatched from dinosaur eggs
Let us gallop like scallops on the backs of water stallions
Rapscallions trotting after in a herd of Spanglish galleons
And none would be the wiser for we paddle our own canoes
Call the fishes what you please, it’s your turn to pick and choose
Just don’t juggle with the turtles or make fun of a zebra’s spots
There are rules to be contorted into lovely bows and knots
Regardless who you are, you shouldn’t argue with yourself
Leave the attitude at home, the complaint jar on the shelf
Brush those chips off your shoulder, the crumbs off your lap
Never tiptoe in reverse or walk on hands without a map
Don’t wear a bottom-hat to the opera, pajamas over a coat
Let your counting sheep run off but never let them get your goat
Lend your socks to an octopus when removing every doubt
And be sure to skip the rope, for it won’t lend you any klout
I’ve forgotten about frogs, or were we talking about fishes?
It is impolite to mumble when making your three wishes
Countless axioms are moot unless you maximize your addage
Then subtract the difference between a turnip and a cabbage
If you have a carrot top, you can always join the aside-show
Where nothing is straightforward, except where babybuggies go
And that fishes may be frogs if they were once in time a tadpole
Therefore, guppies can be puppies if they learn to dig a hole.
There are ballads and chronicles of females in lakes
Benign, wicked, an enchantress or harsh mistress
Poised between angels and she-devils they wait
Like ballerinas captive in a wind-up music box
Suspended in motion, preserved in memory
There for the asking by those in need or want
Of a momentary comfort, a crystalline indulgence
But the lake is a chill and demanding lord
For an elegant lady — flesh cool, eyes glittery
Glimpsed like jewels through a lucid tea
Strands of hair fanning, spread in a majestic cloud —
She cannot breathe underneath its cloak of waves
The bubbles are her drowning chain of commands
A shimmering trail of last gasps, unheard sighs
As the lake tows her down, down, down . . .
Spinning, twirling like a dancer, eyes wide
Into the pit of her confinement, a glass coffin
That only the bottommost-dwellers can see
Nestled on a bed of shells, interred like a queen
To awaken and greet visitors with a regal smile
An icy touch or stare, a beautiful siren’s welcome
Until then she rests, her hands modestly folded
In classic repose like a fairytale princess
Features unperturbed, absent of expression
Her dreams the nightmares of a fractured predestined fate
An indentured servant to a body of ageless drops
The pool of lost hopes and shattered illusions
Dredged by vast sorrows spilled into a glacier’s footprint
Wept by the mother of Time, collected like rain in a jar
In turn a fair lady was chosen to wallow in its tears
Demurely offer solace and sharp blades with a statue’s calm
The composure of a department-store mannequin
Frozen in a gesture as she is locked
Though she undulates toward the air like current
And exudes the lissome grace of a swan
Do not be fooled by appearances for she
Is less content to be window-dressing
A symbolic slave to the travails of womanhood
Exalted yet imprisoned, becoming a nymph
In all but spirit, for that has died and been embalmed
The lake her grave, a watery vault, the lady’s tomb
She cannot escape its grasp, the walls of the crypt
Blurred eyes no longer pierce this veil of dark and light
Her burial shroud of liquid envelops like a net
Surrounding a dolphin or porpoise, trapping a whale
Her screams and misery are silently contained
In limbo, within the velvet fathoms of the lake.