Paul Cormier was born in Auburn, Maine, and currently resides in Northern Virginia where he enjoys a successful real estate practice and writes poetry. If real estate provides Paul with a secure livelihood and Virginia represents an economically expedient place in which to maintain residency and raise a family, Paul’s heart remains in Aroostook where he has summered since his youth and where he has deep and intimate roots. Paul’s father, Everett, was born in Van Buren, Maine, and his mother, Roberta, in Fort Kent. Paul’s Granddad, Paul Ouellette, once a Fort Kent pharmacist, built one of the first camps at nearby Cross Lake in 1928. By 1974, Paul’s parents left Virginia and made their permanent home on the lake. It is a rare summer that Paul has not spearheaded a pilgrimage back up to Cross Lake for nourishment, solace and inventory. Many of Paul’s poems resonate with history, incident, anecdote and memory of his family’s deep roots in Aroostook.
SOMETHING LARGE IS IN THE LAKE
Roiling up under low boughs, the lake crept into the mossy bog
Before it sidled up and peered over the steep grade to discern
His dry floors, and make then a gurgling bead for his featherbed.
He knew the lake was gaining on him in the dark.
The shoreline had long slipped under
Inch by pocked-creep by white-foamed inch, surrendering
Foot after foot of its clamshell, the muddied roaring rock bed,
Its aching green and brown and worn stones.
He clanged down four tin pails
To catch four wry runnels of roof leaks
And turned in for the night.
Cup Shake, Heart Shake, Star Shake in one lightning strike!
All that evening, sheers, microbursts, and devils
Of lightning, tightened and slackened, tightened and slackened
The wire lung of the sleeping-porch bug-screens.
Fellings, roof-tugs, hyenas in the old tree-house,
Gremlins cackling beneath the jo-house seat, battened down
Mischief-makers, jackanapes of the feral storm,
Heaves, whooshes, the jo-house seat clamping down out beyond
The porch screens’ manic respiration, the storm apportioning little sleep.
Please spare our camp,
He heard himself murmur
over the snap of the power line.
Had he really said that?
* * * * *
Pulp shavings, leafage, branches
He sees himself now, clasping a bar of Parmolive.
And steps in.
The lake he wishes were at least opaque . . . ?
Stiff as a mud-pool.
He stands. With each step, rocks import cramp
to sole, arch, and toe.
Trout about him
no longer in a panic to breathe.
Rocks farther out, too, with which his toes must still grapple.
Trout, rock, sediment, but finally clay.
Don’t go out in the lake before a storm,
go in during one, and don’t go in
Inexplicably, he has gone in.
And out, on his back.
On his side first, then on his back.
If the wind blows strong enough to lift the water up high enough—if it would kick it up there for some indeterminate period of time—at some point the colder water at the bottom will start to climb up to the surface and the warmer better-fed water at the top will start to climb down. When the bottom asphyxiant water reaches them, the fish near the top suffocate in the exchange. Something large, unseen—and unforeseen—has deprived them of their air. Imagine a phenomenon of our atmosphere doing that to us.
Until the contour of his body aches
With the iciest spiral of thinning oxygen—
Smell the water
—he doesn’t know anything
is wrong, or could be.
But reaching the deep middle, something, something very large brushes the back of his neck, something rough, like roof shingles, scrapes the bush at the crown of his head, and . . .
. . . he goes all yelling-fool, four-lettering, breaking his compact with buoyancy, sweating jets of perspiration through his armpits in cold water if that’s possible, evacuating the lake with pathetic miniscule aggressions, arms flailing berserk paddlewheels, he adopts then abandons a hyperactive dogpaddle . . .
. . . . and gets away from the large something that has found him, or
the something that he has foolishly found—
—but it won’t get away from him, its brown arms won’t let go of him—
—Thick in its upswept arms, he spits up the lake’s mucous out of revolting
—Monster risen from the deep,
—yet the next instant he finds himself on his back once more, the thing abruptly at a safer remove, his soap bar afloat in the middle distance, panic seems to stand down momentarily, he grants himself a thought-sustaining pause in the sway, but still huffing and puffing as he must, the surface returning to weirs and threads, heart, pounding premature ventricular contractions—
—Wetter here than the wet around him and wetter
than the wet around it—
—whatever it is, easily it brings eyeballs to itself, and grins eyeballs back at him—
—A waterborne rack of stag’s antlers,
Irascible horns—some drooped fully-foliaged,
The angrier ones upright, bare, wet-polished, punishing spars—
—submariner, its elaborate branchware
could thwack his eyes out, and do more
than tickle his groin—
The massive curvature floats gravely, innocuous otherwise, aimless
With the stir of the current, its large drift not of its own accord,
Its current-stir hardly to be discerned,
Two thirds of its mass under yellow corpulent water,
Too green a yanking for moss to yet pad its barrel.
He plunges his hands under.
Eel? Shark? Crock?
Tentacles of octopus?
The inexplicable fin?
The man-eater, man-encircler? Nothing.
Unseen. Half-seen. Overpowering.
What a waterspout might have done in the dark.
With the white-face alacrity born of terror
Of incomprehension at the encounter
With a sprawling giant of high fierce winds
Root-and-limb-bedraggled in a night to the deep,
Startled, at the root of his heart fearful . . .
Except that here in this place my fears come alive
Or is this the lake where hackles have come to
Down finally but for my mother’s warning ‘not to
Eat then swim’ that forces hairs high, but for a memory
Of my father yelling in a boat, standing, falling out of a boat,
About which I am reminded, even grown-ups can drown in lakes,
And a boy and girl who watch how sly currents can capture
A giddy boat without oars, their eyes peering over the gunwales,
As such a boat so disarmed once carried my sister and I,
Or if high water rises high enough in one childhood to evacuate the household into the current,
Then forty years on there festers reasons to fear.
—If I have met here what I seem to be destined to mate with, am I meant to cling to it so?—
* * * * *
Dreaming yet awake, awake yet dreaming,
In miracle-rending expert swimmer’s strokes,
He dove back to the shore yelling, hoarse for his life.
The lake recovered and healed itself, making way
For more than it had once impossibly contained.
The bather found his wits, and healed himself.
The forest had already gone back
To its fierce occupation of woodpeckers, its providence of beavers.
Everything wanted to return back to the way it was before
And was excessively busy in doing so, seeking to restore itself
By the hour, by the minute, by compensating routine.
Morning came with loud creek-chatter,
Brook and stream feeders, nearly in vain to keep up
With the storm’s surplus sluicing through
The dammed up woods, pouring down
Around torso stumps, ferrying pulp chips, bubbling up bits of bark,
Carrying the fly fisherman’s careening crankcase,
Finally murmuring at the mouths of a hundred local streambeds,
Cold fires, overriding minnow-shadowed dam stones, emptying
Into the deepening, widening, and awaiting oval.