Archival Features, New Series, Poems

Joan Swift: “Sometimes a Lake”

Our final post in a series highlighting our Pushcart nominees features Joan Swift. Below she offers an introduction to her poem “Sometimes a Lake,” a meditation on loss and grief from our Winter & Spring 2016 issue. 


The suicide of the elder of my two daughters is something I’d rather talk about only in a poem, her sudden vanishing and then her reappearance in each item I had to unpack. A poem about mourning should not have to be explained, should it? And yet I felt better after I wrote the poem. I feel better when I read it, as if she is suddenly there. And so the process of mourning goes on.

Sometimes a Lake

To make up for the lost days
I go through each box as if it held
the secret to vanishing
the way a cedar can sometimes hold a lake
between its branches, the blue kept
among needles like a bead on many strings—
turquoise, the deep of lapis—
until one step with your eyes takes the lake
away. Here are your boots gray
with slush, not those you wore watching the bear’s
fur ripple like fireweed on the mountain slope.
Here are two books about Kurt Cobain.
The sky is almost too dark for me to see
long wires, earphones—you have nothing to say—
the box of rattling CDs.
Here is a map you drew in ink of Valdez:
the hospital that turned you away,
post office, swimming pool for some warm summer day
that never came for you,
road to the house through snow
where Medicaid sent you.
What were they thinking of?
And this mug with its vines and birds,
a gift from your brief and only marriage.
I want it in the kitchen
where I can stretch for it every morning,
sip absence and remember,
although your sister who never
phoned you will break it by accident
three weeks from now.
These boxes are almost empty—
just air and losses.
But here’s a photo album where you’re smiling
with friends, your borderline disorder group.
Beside a tent. Under a Sitka spruce.
In the background always a lake,
always the one you kept trying to row across.

Joan Swift, originally from Rochester, NY, has published four full-length
books of poems, the two most recent both winners of the Washington State
Governor’s Award. She is the recipient of three National Endowment for the
Arts Creative Writing Fellowships as well as grants from the Washington State
Arts Commission, an award from The Poetry Society of America, a Pushcart
Prize, and residencies at Yaddo and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
She lives in Edmonds, Washington.