by elizabeth langemak
an Inland Sea
Less a lake than an inland sea, Michigan was less a sea than a heaving
blue question. Our parents sat at its feet in all weathers, not speaking,
while we picked twigs and blunt glass from its back. Less a body
of water than a wide-open mouth. Less a mouth than an attic
where we stored everything bitter, everything cold. In July,
it was a magician and we were its girls, cut in half at our waists
as we played. Sunburned on our shoulders, our feet felt
disappeared. Our teachers warned us, but they didn’t
need to: Michigan was less a place to swim than a catalog
of front pages and undertows, a list of classmates plucked
from their summers at irregular intervals. Less a mnemonic
of Great Lakes than an invitation to linger, every fourth grader knew
HOMES by heart, could pluck out by finger “The Wreck
of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” In winters, in the shallows, the water
wore less a prim collar than a choker of ice, a pile so violent
it seemed less made by waves than of our answers compounded,
marked wrong, and spat back. This is less a lake than an inland
sea, said my husband, from Texas, when I first took him
to see it. I showed him how to skip a stone over the unsharpened
waves, but it was less a place to learn than to sit, so we did.
"An Inland Sea" was a finalist for our 2017 Up North Poetry Prize.
lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.