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This Lake Has No Name 

Poem

Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

With shoulders drenched by cannonballs

men fought to give you their name-

their names now lay beside sturgeon,

and spars that were charred by flame

their beards are tangled in milfoil

their eyes stare into green, and we

now praise your luster, your glimmer, your hills

without asking for your name.

We did not dream above your petrified whales,

while sawing trees and nailing ash to cross

your inland sea. We slipped our ships around

Cumberland head- such was the northern dream,

to round Valcour, the Four Brothers,

and ultimately Ticonderoga.

The men of the west were painted and brave

they chose their friends based on their enemies,

the men of the east were painted and brave

they chose their enemies based on their enemies-

Algonquin, Iroquois, English, French, Black

American, Quebecois, White American, Canadian,

all based their enemies upon themselves,

and fought to give you their names.

We say the cormorants have invaded, while you

recall when well bred sheep and the potash trade

denuded an old growth watershed. You dislike

tasting paper pulp- enter clandestine zebra mussels.

Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

Women walk alone on brick beaches, bricks

from a wreck that foundered in your storm.

Ice fishermen pull steaming trout from your body

and grand children stand on ripples of sand

while your whispers wrap ankles in sunlight-

yet we do not know your name.

Granite hills and crumbling fortresses

embrace the new leviathan,

puffing poets praise themselves, and the rich

their charitable contributions to you.

Your waters are the blood of glaciers

your gar the serrated spawn of monsters

we serve at your pleasure, you are not of us

-and Samuel de Champlain is dust-

while murmuring souls turn in your waves

to blossom and curl and uncurl

like fiddleheads in May, like tears

in a beard, like a baby’s tongue-

innocent of words;

and only they, and only melting bones can know

the shibboleth of your true name.

Twenty thousand souls

swell beneath these waves

each whitecap is a headstone,

each billow is a grave.

Twenty thousand is an estimate of how many people may have perished on the lake through warfare, storms, accidents, etc., since humans first entered the Champlain Valley — around 9000 BC. Marc Awodey is Seven Days’ art critic. His poems are published in Telegrams from the Psych Ward. Minimal Press, 1999, 102 pages.

The Quadricentennial Issue

Like, oh my Quad! Quadricentennial, that is. After a long build-up, the massive celebration on account of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival here 400 years ago is finally upon us, and we can hardly contain the puns.

This week we preview some events in the Burlington International Waterfront Festival — see Dan Bolles’ Q&A with Steve Earle. But while we look forward to the fun, this issue also looks back — at the rich human and natural history surrounding Lake Champlain. Lauren Ober visits four individuals whose livelihoods and passions have depended on the water. She also tours the embattled Fort Montgomery across the lake. Elisabeth Crean wades through the hefty bio of Champlain the peaceful explorer, and Alice Levitt forages at the Abenaki Traditional Garden in the Intervale. Marc Awodey offers the most sobering perspective with a poem about lives lost beneath the waves.

Any way you look at it, Champlain is a lake with stories worth telling.

This is just one article from our 2009 Quadricentennial Issue. Click here for more Quadricentennial stories.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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More by Marc Awodey

  • Ground Crew
  • Ground Crew

    Art Review: Wendy James, Lynn Rupe and Carolyn Hack, Burlington International Airport
    • Dec 14, 2011
  • Net Gain
  • Net Gain

    Art Review: Barbara Wagner, Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery
    • Dec 7, 2011
  • Branching Out
  • Branching Out

    Art Review: “Trees,” Bryan Memorial Gallery
    • Nov 23, 2011
  • More »

About The Author

Marc Awodey

Marc Awodey

Bio:
Painter, poet, writer, musician, guerilla publisher and numismatist Marc Awodey, 1960-2012, was the Seven Days arts critic for more than a decade before his death at age 51. We all miss him.

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