Donald Platt

Where Water and Time Intersect


The older I get
the more layered with
memory grow
those places dearest
to me.


Eleanor and I
take my new
red canoe to
O’Hara’s Landing
on Twin Lakes.
Taylor, the college kid
collecting launching
fees, waves my twenty
dollar bill away,
points to thunderheads
building over the lake
like black cotton balls,
laughs, and says, “Forget
it. You’ll be back in
half an hour.”


                                All late
afternoon, Eleanor
and I paddle into
the past. First, we go
to my parents’ old,
crooked, damp, drafty
summer house, long since
sold. We stop paddling
twenty feet from shore.

Eleanor remembers
the house’s upstairs
layout, which I had
forgotten. She says
Grandma and Grandpa’s
bedroom was in front
over the screened-in porch.
It had the best view
of lake and mountains.
Uncle Michael’s room
with his brass bedstead
was in back. It looked
out on pine trees.
I still smell those pines
in my sleep.


The Mahicans called
one lake Washining,
meaning “Laughing Water.”
The other, Washinee
or “Smiling Water.”


Thirty-two years
ago, Dana, pregnant
with Eleanor,
and I paddled in
a blue, not red, canoe
around the island’s
far shore. We pointed
to a gnarled hemlock
that curved out over
the water like a
long arm extended
towards us. That tree’s
still here.


                                Last summer,
a weeping willow
shaded the small
spit of sand where Rosanne
and I picnicked—cherries,
brie, sourdough baguette,
pinot grigio.
Her voice was low
wavelets lip-lapping
that sandy, shaded
shore. The tree still weeps.


This summer has been
week after week
of rain. The new red
canoe glides so quickly
over old boulders
I remember from past
years protruding
above the water
like worn-down molars.


We paddle through rain
squalls, get wet, don’t
care. Rainwater sloshes
back and forth along
the canoe’s bottom.


My parents and brother
are dead.
My marriage is over.
I am filled
with sorrow briefly.

Now I wring sorrow out
like rainwater
from my sodden T-shirt.


Then Eleanor
and I see a great blue
heron rise on its
slow laboring wings
up from some cattails.


In flight, the heron
stretches out its long
neck until it’s almost
a horizontal
line from beak to breast
with one slight crook.
When it had stood
stock-still on its
impossibly thin
stilt legs, it bent
that neck snakelike so
its body
assumed the shape
of a capital
S at the beginning
of a sentence
I am still learning
to read from my childhood


In the stern, I steer.
We’re heading back to
O’Hara’s Landing.
Eleanor’s thin, strong,
tanned, bare shoulders flex
beneath her white
sleeveless T-shirt,
as she paddles
into her future.

Our paddles leave
small whirlpools
that vanish
in the water behind
us. We will remain
daughter, lake water.



Donald Platt’s seventh book, One Illuminated Letter of Being, was published last fall by Red Mountain Press. His other books include Man Praying (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2017), Tornadoesque (CavanKerry Press’s Notable Voices series, 2016), Dirt Angels (New Issues Press, 2009), My Father Says Grace (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), and Cloud Atlas and Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, & Guns (both from Purdue University Press and published respectively in 2002 and 1994). He is a recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1996 and 2011). Currently, he is a full professor of English at Purdue University and teaches in its MFA program.