The Poetry of
Jack Scott

Lake of the Lost Fisherman

Why did I come here?
Because of the name.

It was raining when I came.
My right eye was sick and running
tormented by this dimming light
and the mushroom poisoning;
the left was sympathetic.
The sun, if there was one,
was stuck at almost night.
The twilight just went on and on.

I’m not a camper, not at home
in past or present tents;
I need the inside of a warm dry house
for personal humanity.
Warm enough within my car/cocoon
I had to keep it running to stay that way,
burning toward the end of gas
far from the nearest pump.
I hid in the car waiting to decide
who I would have to be,
which one of me,
is brave enough to get too wet
before I could get dry and warm again.

My tent was shaped for lying down
in readiness for sleep if it would come,
but not for standing
or even sitting up to read.
It could be called a rain coat
if it didn’t leak.

How much exposure to the drizzle
would be the cost of setting up the tent
and laying down the sleeping bag in it
was the question.
The answer lay in doing it.
I did
and got cold and wet,
miserably pathetic,
not cut out for this
I retreated to the car and heater.

There was another tent not far away,
I passed it coming in
lit up like a lantern,
an anemic shade of pumpkin.
Compared to mine,
industrial size,
tall enough to stand it,
wide and long enough for cots.
Appropriately within: three men
casting larger shadows
wisely staying in.
I did not see them clearly
except as something three
at first.

There is a Yankee saying
that August and winter
are Maine’s two seasons.
I had driven north of August
into the land of hypothermia.
I had a summer sleeping bag
more to keep the bugs off
than the cold at bay.
I could lay me down to sleep in it
in the tent or in the car
and pray for sleep to come
and there to dream, if possible,
that I was warm again
and my eye was well.

With the heater on, hiding from reality,
I knew, of course, what must be done,
and as well, who had to do it.
The time had come for fire,
its reinvention,
but firewood first,
dry firewood in the rain-
dream on-
possible perhaps, but difficult.
If I considered options clearly
like any good Boy Scout
(which I never was)
the first step was obvious.
I began by searching
down the empty beach,
gathering on the way back
twigs and branches, soaking wet,
and observations.
Wet or not, I had a plan
based on what I’d seen
and necessary logic.

The lake was on my right;
there was some sodden driftwood there.
On the left, a cliff which had eroded
and over time lost trees
to gravity and wind.
Some had been felled by campers,
smart enough to bring chain saws,
cut their own firewood
leaving: logs and brush.
The logs seemed to be all heavy,
but some perhaps within my means
to drag or carry.
Their outsides would be wet as well,
but inside: dry wood and kindling
for someone with a hatchet,
someone just like me.

I could not afford intimidation,
or being overwhelmed.
Whatever lay before me
must be tackled one by one.
The first I chose
to heft upon my shoulder
was too heavy so I chose again,
but, turning ,I saw Magi,
three specters materializing
from the thickening mist,
my neighbors from the other tent:
young surveyors
offering six hands and arms.

Sisyphus had no help
perhaps because he asked for none;
help was not in my plan either,
but gratitude was quick to come.
I thanked them in advance
and picked my logs:
light enough to be borne by two
or dragged by one.
We stacked a pile of them
in a likely spot before my tent.
We four made short work of it.

God bless surveyors,
but in this wilderness
what could need surveying?
A road, they said,
not too far from there.
They offered me a drink
to warm up with
(though I was sweating)
inviting me into the homey
comfort of their tent.

They lived well while on the road,
working at their job;
they were not roughing it.
I turned down a second drink-
brandy it was I think,
I know I made a face at it.
I had a little beer at “home”
I was saving for dessert
if I could get dry and warm
enough to cook and eat
a real meal first.

With my little hatchet
I hacked and chopped
until I had a nest of chips
without cutting through one log.
It would be too much for me
I realized, to cut these logs in two.
It was not raining hard,
it never was,
it was just remaining wet.
Although my manufactured kindling
was dry enough on top of shredded paper
I spoiled my matches
with my soggy hands.
Although a smoker, I had no more
and didn’t have a lighter.
I started up my car
and used its lighter
to light and carry fire
to the nest I’d made for it.

Rule one in wilderness:
don’t make mistakes.
(Rule one anywhere!)
My spirits rose with the fire
as I worked to feed it,
a benign Frankenstein,
my child, my own creation.
I fed it twigs and stems and chips;
it gave me smoke and heat and steam.
The whole logs:
I laid first one across the blaze
for burning it in two,
then across that, another,
one more on top of that,
an ungainly structure:
a giant’s game of Pick-up Sticks.

Alive for sure, it talked to me
in ancient tongues of history,
in flame and sparks
displaying darkness’ immensity.
I didn’t understand the music,
but I would try to sing.
I would burn each log in two
and then those two in two.
That kept me busy for awhile
and almost kept my mind off pain
and loneliness and fear
and all those other goblins of the night.
I’d paid out seven of my strength of ten
to have this bright and sparkling monument
to my courage and my industry,
so sure and easy looking back.
Forget the coward who looked only ahead.

I didn’t broil filet mignon;
I ate what spread on crackers,
made cowboy coffee
and drank the last of beer.
I didn’t think of her;
I’d thought all roads led to her Rome;
I thought of other things.
Foremost, I hoped my eye was curable,
I hoped that’s what a doctor’d say.
My job was number two;
I hated it, a prison.
I had no other prospects,
but also hadn’t looked for them.
I hoped I’d have my job when I got back
and also hoped they’d fired me.
I’d come on this journey
blindered by what I thought was love
without giving notice to responsibility.
In the name of love
I’d come north in search of rendezvous;
I’d come north pretending love.

My Pandora’s Box of urban fears
was open, all its creatures streaming out
into the darkness of this night.
Since this fire began
and closed around itself and me
I have arrived at a cosmic simplicity:
the future is ahead,
I am not Superman.
It will happen;
that is that.
What is this thing called hope?

Though I will get there first
you will grow old too.
Saplings become heavy trees
some of which
grow too close to cliffs
and fall before their time
or not-
when they fall, it’s time-
becoming mushroom food
at the bottom of their chain,
dead and waterlogged,
then mold and powder,
then gone.

My tent became diaphanous
in the early sun.
The surveyors were all gone
when I got up.
I left all my gear in place
and set about to find a doctor
in the nearest town
and get gas.

L22 ®Copyright 1973 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.