Camping

by Mike LaForge
The Waters
Third Place, June 2020
Judged by Terese Coe


I remember the rusted bus and the dry cattle, dog lost
on the hillside above the green lake. Her rough throat
when she charged down the trail just after supper.

Fish were there, flexing in the clear pools,
but we couldn’t catch them. I dive down,
eyes aching in the cold, unconcerned.

It burned in the driveway, my whiskey hidden
in the couch, garden hose chuckling up bubbles,
drenching the pine tree next to the car-port.

Dad built all of it, injured and cursing
in the oily basement; none of us helped.
Mom took sleeping pills, just to dull the itch.

I remember green gallon jugs of white wine,
stacks of sci-fi on the shag carpet, smoked oysters
and the sour pearly scent of spent potential.

Tents didn’t figure in. That old school bus
housed us across the Rockies, ignorant
of its arsoned future, yellow in the dawn.

Those camping days were just enough
to blunt the burnt edges of childhood. Mostly, though,
just blazing dysfunction in a dead suburb.


A remembrance with sharp and penetrating images, this is also musical in its way, with phrases or lines that could suit a rock song. The cattle, the dog, the fish are sketched easily, fleetingly, yet they stick. The same goes for the whiskey, Dad, Mom, and the Rockies. The “sour pearly scent of spent potential” jars a little at first, but has something magical in it. This is work that grows on the reader, and I expect the poet has much promise. The final lines are searing.

--Terese Coe

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