The Lake

By Billy Collins

Featured Image: Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay by Fitz Henry Lane, 1863
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

As usual, it was easy to accept the lake
and its surroundings,
to take at face value the colonies of reeds
along the shore, a little platoon of ducks,
a turtle sunning itself on a limb half submerged,
and the big surface of the lake itself,
the water sometimes glassy, other times ruffled.

Why, Henry David Thoreau or anyone
even vaguely familiar with the role
of the picturesque in American
landscape painting of the 19th century
would feel perfectly at home in its presence.

And that is why I felt so relieved
to discover in the midst of all this
a note of skepticism,
a touch of whimsy,
or call it a bit of Dadaist playfulness;
and if not a remark worthy of Oscar Wilde
then surely a sign of the human was apparent

in the casual fuck-you attitude
so perfectly expressed by the anhinga
that was drying its extended wings
in the morning breeze
while perched on a decoy of a Canada goose.


Billy Collins’s latest collection is Whale Day (Random House, 2020). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Originally appeared in NOR 17

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