The Fog and the Lake

poem

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The coolness wrung me from the night air,

bringing me into being without memory.

 

Yet I knew the sun will pierce me soon

and I will vanish.

 

I licked my way through the trees,

tasting each branch, moss, and stone.

 

I sponged a rabbit, then a deer,

delicately around the eyes and the ankles.

 

I squeezed a droplet onto a rubbery leaf

and watched an ant pick it up.

 

I hung from the top of the trees

to the floor, the whole forest

blooming and decaying inside me.

 

By daybreak, I reached the edge of the forest

and rolled over the bank onto a glassy lake.

 

I hovered close to her, finding no ripple,

and let my belly slide along her stillness.

 

The first light slipped between the lake and me,

spreading silver on her surface

and I saw myself, diffuse and grey.

 

As the sun rose,

I watched the silver

flicker to lilac and orange.

 

Soon, the sun singed my back,

the mist in me clustered, making holes

where the sunlight shot through me

down into the lake,

dancing shafts trying to reach her bottoms.

 

The sun burned deeper,

but her cool breath lifted me,

and I flowed into an upsurge,

rising high into the shape of an old man,

the sun no longer hot on my back.

 

I hovered in the stratus,

gazing down on the lake far below,

laying flat as a mirror

set into the earth.

 

And then the air rushed along my sides.

I collapsed inward,

condensing into a million droplets.

 

I became tipsy,

with half of me still floating,

the other half falling,

not in a straight line,

but downward in swaying curves.

 

When I first penetrated her surface,

I could feel the lower part of me

disappear into her giant embrace;

 

While still falling,

before sinking deeper into the lake,

I glimpsed the whole of me,

a shining outline undulating

in the sun rays that lit her insides.

 

And in the next moment, I was gone.

 

essay

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In previous poems, I used complex words to express simple ideas. In this poem, I used simple words to express complex ideas. I chose words like fog, lake, sun, forest, ant, deer, rabbit, licked, sponged, but I wanted deeper meanings to emerge through the word relationships.

 

People often use water—the stuff of the fog and the lake—to describe emergent properties, its components being hydrogen and oxygen (H2O). Independently, neither hydrogen nor oxygen resemble water, but when they connect, the distinctive properties of water emerge—all with nothing additional added.

 

This poem, a love story, shows how the meaning of life emerges when the fog and the lake connect.

 

The fog begins his journey like any child, born new, not aware of himself, having no history, no legacy. Yet he knows his life is finite. While the sun means death for him, he sees the sun as the finality that gives meaning to what he does with his life. By contrast, if he believed he would live forever, he would less likely give weight to one choice over another.

 

In his life, he chooses a passionate search for knowledge. After roaming through realms of knowledge, growing older and wiser, he believes he has learned much about life and death.

 

// I hung from the top of the trees // to the floor, the whole forest // blooming and decaying inside me.

 

He is ready for daybreak, for the sun to come and take the last of him, satisfied that he will die in peace and that his life has had meaning.

 

But then something magical happens. At the very moment he’s expecting to have his entire life ended, when he thought he had deep knowledge of the world, he and the lake discover each other. She lays in the stillness of the morning—in the stillness of his impending death—like a beautiful woman, like him, made of water but different. He is leaving the edge of the forest, the edge of all that he’s known and all that he had expected to know.

 

She gives him a great and unexpected gift: Her vision of him, given through her reflection from her stillness, from her core being, the gift, by seeing himself, a vision of the meaning of his life, which had previously been given to him by the sun.

 

//and I saw myself, diffuse and grey.

 

Through her vision of him, he transforms from a diffuse and grey being, empty of love, into something richer. Now, the sun, the bringer of his own death, slides more light between them, and a more colorful, more meaningful life emerges between them. Their love transforms the way the sun brings meaning.

 

And as the sun rises higher—as his finality in his own mind becomes more imminent—the sun shoots holes through him and down inside her. The light shafts, piercing through him, transforming him, and into her, bind them in a beautiful light connection. The sun, the bringer of meaning to his whole life, now becomes the bond between them. The sun transforms as the fog transforms, as the meaning of his life and death transforms.

 

He is expecting to vanish now, but she gives him another gift: a complete transformation of himself (into a cloud), defying his sense of death. He is no longer the same person—and the sun is no longer there to obliterate him. Her love now gives him meaning, her vision of him that he sees reflected in her, not the sun.

 

// but her cool breath lifted me, // and I flowed into an upsurge, // rising high into the shape of an old man, // the sun no longer hot on my back.

 

He continues to flourish in her vision of him, his orientation to life completely transformed through their love.

 

// I hovered in the stratus, // gazing down on the lake far below, // laying flat as a mirror // set into the earth.

 

With deep love between the lake and himself, he begins his final transformation. Death comes rushing along and he begins to transform into little droplets of rain.

 

Like a senile man, confused in some way, he becomes tipsy, falling, none of it like he expected, swaying, unsettled in all but her love for him.

 

And the very thing that would cause him to vanish, the sun, shooting through the lake’s insides, allows him to see himself in her. It’s this undulating in the light that lit her insides, her love, that gives him grace and beauty and meaning for who he was for the life he lived.

  • end
  • Copyright Robert Caldwell © 2017. All Rights Reserved