Hamlin Lake, Michigan, 1940s
by Joan Colby
A smell of damp, of mildew
Permeated the cottage, lakeside,
Built of simple unfinished planks,
Nothing polished or complicated,
Floorboards, thin walls
So every conversation could be overheard.
A red pump by the chipped sink
That groaned to expel tinged water.
A woodstove my mother cursed
As we stood dripping from our lake baths
Holding bars of Ivory, thin towels wrapped
Around our waists.
The beds were headed with bars
Like jails. Hard in places,
Sunken in others so you could spend
The night spinning from one pole to another
Like a confused explorer.
Outside, the splintery dock
Where father diving into waters
Surprisingly shallow that year
Nearly broke his neck. A rowboat
With heavy recalcitrant oars
To tug us across the lake for supplies.
The splash splash of progress.
Our spitz shuddering in the prow,
He’d fallen in once and remembered.
White birch whose bark could peel
Into testaments on which we wrote
Our having funs and see you soons
Anything with a stamp could be posted
Father contested and was correct.
Rainy afternoons on the porch,
The screens plinging with out-of-tune
Instruments, we played Sorry,
The colored jacks marched on the board
In militant steps or landing badly
As paratroops were sent back
The way a child was sent to bed
Too early, sleepless, listening
To the mysterious things they said.
IMAGE: Vintage postcard, Hamlin Lake, Michigan.
NOTE: Hamlin Lake is a manmade lake in Michigan enlarged due to the Hamlin Lake Dam backing up the Big Sable River before it reaches Lake Michigan. The lake, which covers 5,350 acres, is 12 miles long and two miles wide. The western section has a maximum depth of almost 80 feet, while the eastern section is 34 feet deep. The first dam was built in the 1850s for a sawmill. Ludington State Park lies along the entire western shore of the lake while the eastern tip of the lake is in the Manistee National Forest. Sand dunes separate the western shore of Hamlin Lake from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.
PHOTO: Hamlin Lake, Michigan (July 8, 2005) by Kevin Daniels.
MAP: Location of Hamlin Lake within the State of Michigan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Colby (1939-2020) liked to say that she worked “anywhere a poem would strike”—that it was so important to capture a poem in the moment, “like photographing a bird before it flies away.” During her long career as a poet, she published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. Her awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). Her poems are winners of the 2014 and 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. She also was selected as an International Merit Award Winner in the 2015 Atlanta Review contest She published 25 books, including Selected Poems, which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize, and Ribcage, which won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her collections include Her Heartsongs from Presa Press, Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press and Bony Old Folks from Cyberwit Press. Her collection from The Poetry Box, The Kingdom of the Birds, was published in September 2020, one month after her passing.