Poetry of Witnessing

Eurasian milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. In truth, the state has more than 14,000 lakes of ten acres or more. I enjoyed many of them as I was growing up.

At the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference last month, I attended a workshop on poetry of witness, a way of writing that holds up hard truths so they are not forgotten. Dawn Pichon Barron of Evergreen State College led the workshop and asked us to write about a troubling societal issue. She gave us 16 minutes to compose a poem of witness. As we read our resulting poems, we experienced not only witnessing but also a “with-ness” (Mitsein) with each other.

Here is mine, inspired by my love of lakes and the need to protect them.

10,000 Lakes Minus One

You may remember

the Minnesota lake

where you stepped in clear

cool water on a hot day.

You may remember glittering minnows

skittering away in the shallows,

bass and pike as you went deeper.

You may remember the faint hint of algae

as you swam out among the fish.

Now when you visit you wonder—

What has happened to this place?

And WHAT is that smell?

When you wade in for a swim,

you’re blocked by invasive seaweed,

a thick mat of Eurasian milfoil grabbing your legs.

The smell is of a suffocating, overgrown lake

that is dying.

Yet, if you stand on the high bank

and look east

you’ll see a single pink water lily

and its wide green pad floating,

shining in the light.

Lotus photo by Barbara Terao

Seaweed problems are not only in lakes. ABC News reported “Record amount of seaweed is choking shores in the Caribbean.” More than 24 million tons of sargassum clogged the Atlantic in June.

1 thought on “Poetry of Witnessing

  1. Betsy Fuchs

    Your poem reminds me of the lake we spent our summers at: Cross Lake which we also called “Little Lake.” It was part of the Chain of Lakes in northeastern Illinois/Southeastern Wisconsin. I haven’t been there in a long time and wonder how it is doing. Can I hope it is still as you remembered lakes years back and I remembered this beautiful lake. Thanks Barbara.

    Reply

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