A couple of weeks ago, I published a short memoir of my experiences at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, titled "Memories of Indiana Dunes" in NUVO.
It was inspired to some degree by the recent designation of the lake shore as a national park. Inseparable from those memories is a poem I wrote half a lifetime ago about those same experiences.
The poem, which you'll find below, is based loosely on an actual episode, when I went out on boat patrol as a ranger's assistant with a National Park Service law enforcement officer on Lake Michigan in the summer of 1991.
Hopefully, I won't get a ticket for writing a poem in a journalist's lane, and for making some slight embellishments in the details. Now, I don't take liberties with the facts as a journalist, but I'm not claiming my poem as a work of journalism. I claim poetic license: I'm claiming my poem as a poem.
And I'm claiming this space in the NUVO Voices section, a space normally reserved for opinions voiced in prose.
I believe that poetry shouldn't just be confined to university journals that few people read, and hard-to-find titles with limited print runs. Thankfully, there have been in recent decades many efforts to make poetry more accessible to the average reader.
The publication of Garrison Keillor's Good Poems was, I believe, a step in the right direction. (After all, not every reader can appreciate John Ashbery.)
And there may be an online renaissance going on with poetry these days if you take The Atlantic magazine at its word, which published the article "How Instagram Saved Poetry: social media is turning an art form into an industry." in October 2018.
But perhaps the most important developments in poetry are taking place off the page, at least in Indianapolis. I've been at a few spoken word venues recently, in preparation for a series of articles on Indy's spoken word scene and I found some of the poetry in these venues—the stuff recited by heart—utterly riveting.
This has not always been my experience in the typical poetry reading, with the reader safely behind the podium, reading off printed pages or from their own books. (Come to think of it, I might have put a few audience members to sleep with my own work in such a manner.)
Anyway, I think the following poem reveals something about myself, which is apropos considering the community journalism model that we're now following at NUVO. That is, I want to be open about my biases, and my predispositions, which includes the fact that I'm predisposed to write poems from time to time.
So. Will I put you to sleep with the following poem? Or does it speak to you in some way? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this article. It would be fun to get a discussion going.
Here's the poem:
(Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Summer 1991)
Out from Lefty’s Coho we cruised east. The lake
was the color of sky and the sky was all earth
tones over the Bethlehem Steel Mill and the Port
of Indiana. At the mill a refinery tower stood
slanted like the tower of Pisa—despite 10 tons’
worth of scaffolding. Cowles Bog, which sat
adjacent, took the name of a famous ecologist:
Marge, the big-boned, strong-armed officer
at the wheel, nodded indifferently when I tried
explaining this to her. A moment later she jerked
the throttle and we circled a freighter loaded
with ore. We smelled the black liquid oozing
from the mill’s outflow before we saw it. We were
crossing the buoy-line that marked the boundary
between work and play. A cool northwest wind,
blowing off the effluent, dried our solvent-
induced tears.We passed a yacht. Jay Nichols
waved while casting his line. Marge spotted a boy
boarding beyond the buoys. We set him straight.
At the sight of a jet-skier in the swim-zone
we turned on the siren, gave chase, brought the
man on board, and fined him. Marge hummed “Black
Velvet” and steered while I looked through binocs
for glass at Mt. Baldy. Near the NIPSCO cooling
tower we turned 180. Again we passed the swimmers
soaking in the filth our rule-books condoned.
And then the refinery tower came back into view:
a sinkhole was sinking it despite all efforts.
An attempt here to redefine the laws of physics?
Those weren’t laws we enforced. Ours were written
for a world out of whack. Philosophy’s out of line
in this line of work, I thought. We headed back.