Poetry at a Lakeside Trailer Park

By Tina Mozelle Braziel

Featured Art: Silk Snapper Wild USA, $14.99/lb by Rachel Ann Hall

Poetry is a trailer park on a lake that isn’t really a lake but a dammed river and not on the main channel but along a slough, a fraying edge of a body of water that draws some of us to buy a double-wide, rent a lot, build a pier, and dock a boat in the marina.

The dam “lets the water out” each winter, a phrase conjuring a bathtub whose pulled plug leaves a dirty trickle down the middle. This is a far cry from the face of the deep where light, sky, land, and creatures were spoken into being, yet even such a slough is mysterious, elemental, germinal.

Because of Larry Levis, I think of poetry as a lakeside trailer park.

He says in “Some Notes on the Gazer Within” to “think of poems as . . . landscapes . . . refer to them by the virtue of their places.” I see the virtue of orienting each home and resident, human or mallard or frog or muskrat, toward water.

When Levis suggests we reckon with places “soiled by an ineradicable humanity, and by the presence of the dead, of the about-to-be-born,” I think of trailers parked, lengthened by decks, fortified with pole barns and brick. And how daffodil-bloom and porch-lean mark where a neighbor’s trailer has been hauled away.

Because he says “when the poet places the animal in the world, or in the world of the poem, {it} is the recovery of the landscape. It is no longer a world without imagination,” I remember slugs gliding across bathroom sinks, willow flies clouding sky, mushrooms fomenting along commodes, egrets roosting in pines, and shad riffling the water’s surface.

A lakeside trailer park is where “I am filled by, looked at by the landscape; the experience is not that of a mirror’s, but a true exchange” where I experience humanity.

We don’t own it, the lake, its riverness, or the lot we lease, the campsite we rent, even the pier we build to stand longer than we’ll live there, longer than we’ll be alive. Because no one can own a river, no one can be kept out. Here we all belong.

A lakeside trailer park is “an attempt of the imagination to inhabit nature . . .”

It is “an insistence, through the imagination, upon human ecstasy . . .”

It is “a reminder that such ecstasy remains as much a birthright in this world
as misery remains a condition of it.” And it is a poetry you might choose to
drive right past. But, instead, watch—

kids hurl themselves off piers as a cannonball or jack-knife,
a fisherman reels in a large-mouth bass,
catawba worms devour every last leaf of their tree,
teens stretch out to float on plastic filled with air.
See a couple dancing to “Elvira” inside a screened-in porch,
a moccasin swimming like an S from marina to shore,
a woman frying fish and hushpuppies on a picnic table,
a girl reading a library book in a shoreline pine,
a man scratching the chest of a goose named Rufus.

If not worship, each is another response to water’s call.

According to Levis, “A poet finds what he or she is by touching what is out
there, finding the real.”

A lakeside trailer park is the real looking back and reaching me.

It is what I find I am.

A real trailer park is where I grew up, watched quail wind between the pines, waded ankle-deep to feel blue-finned fish peck at my toes, raised an abandoned
duckling among a litter of cats, swam out and stood on the rock submerged
under water, and launched an industrial refrigerator door because it floated like
a barge.

And, it is a metaphor, as real as the toads in Marianne Moore’s imaginary gardens.
Here is welcome.

Come in and feel how, as Larry Levis says, “anything is enough if we know
how poor we are,” how “we can step out now in wonder,” how the turtle’s
nose, emerging from the ripples, is the limit of all we’ll ever know.

Tina Mozelle Braziel won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry for Known by Salt
(Anhinga Press). She grew up on the Coosa River, explored Lake Constance as
exchange student to Germany, sought out hot springs while studying poetry in
Oregon, and took the baths while an Artist-in-Residence at Hot Springs National
Park. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin
that they are building by hand.

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