613: City Lake

613: City Lake

613: City Lake


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I don’t know about you, but it seems like so many of us are in need of new coping skills as the pandemic lingers on. The old hobbies are wearing thin. The old “grin and bear it” philosophy is wearing thin. The folks I see at my local pharmacy seem worn out, worn down. The teachers in my life are bone tired and beleaguered. People are testing positive and isolating and quoting John Berryman’s Dream Song 14 with, “Life, friends, is boring.” And also the line, “I conclude now I have no/ inner resources, because I am heavy bored.”

It is strange to be stressed and anxious and bored all at once. Those folks who are working around the clock, are running out of ways to unwind when they finally get some time off. The one thing I am not bored of yet is nature. Nature is still offering me some reprieve, though I’m ready for the spring to come waltzing in with its baudy colors and overt sunlight at any minute. Give me some warmth. But to me, revisiting the same trees, watching the same birds, still allows for a brief respite from myself and my own chaotic brain.

Even the night sky, full with today’s bright moon, makes me feel like we are not alone in this world. My moon is also your moon and so on. As I look for more coping skills for myself, I am not giving up on nature’s breath. I will keep feeding the birds, and noticing how they don’t seem bored at all. How could they be with so much life all around them?

In today’s evocative poem, we watch as the natural image of a lake comes to hold a multitude of meanings. How sometimes it’s not about looking someplace new, but looking deeper into what was always there right in front of us.

City Lake
by Chelsea DesAutels

Almost dusk. Fishermen packing up their bait,
a small girl singing there’s nothing in here nothing in here
casting a yellow pole, glancing at her father.
What is it they say about mercy? Five summers ago
this lake took a child’s life. Four summers
ago it saved mine, the way the willows stretch
toward the water but never kiss it, how people laugh
as they walk the concrete path or really have it out
with someone they love. One spring the path teemed
with baby frogs, so many flattened, so many jumping.
I didn’t know a damn thing then. I thought I was waiting
for something to happen. I stepped carefully
over the dead frogs and around the live ones.
What was I waiting for? Frogs to rain from the sky?
A great love? The little girl spies a perch
just outside her rod’s reach. She wants to wade in.
She won’t catch the fish and even if she does
it might be full of mercury. Still, I want her
to roll up her jeans and step into the water,
tell her it’s mercy, not mud, filling each impression
her feet make. I’m not saying she should
be grateful to be alive. I’m saying mercy
is a big dark lake we’re all swimming in. 

"City Lake" by Chelsea DesAutels, from A DANGEROUS PLACE copyright © 2022 Chelsea DesAutels. Used by permission of Sarabande Books.