by Claire Martin

We handcrafted a fort of sticks in the woods,
our autumn breaths spinning out of us
against the wet mats of dead leaves; it was a place
we had to get lost to find.
In the thick of the forest, the trees closed
off the sky from the mouth of the world.

In the rose stillness of dawn, the world
held its breath, the sun dicing through the woods
as my dad and I fished off the dock, so close
to finally catching a bass, the white whale for us.
In the thin morning mists shrouded on the lake, I found
that, even if I tried, I could never leave this place.

In thick green layers underwater, warmed by sun, my place
to muffle the dissonance of the outside world
bubbled to life. If I swam deep enough, I could find
easily the brambles of my mind, the enchanted woods.
When I broke surface for breath, the dinner bell clanged for us,
the spice of woodfire smoke off the grill drifting close.

Out on the boat at night, we’d never been so close
to handpicking the stars from the roof of the sky; we placed
constellations in our pockets in the sweet summer air. For us,
out on the water, we were a pulse in the throat of the world.
We interlaced our hands, breathed in the taste of lake and hickory wood
on the evening breeze, and realized we still had homes to find.

We plucked a guitar and a banjo around the fire to find
the sadness pitted in our chests like moss was far too close
to the lonely songs we sang. Sprawled out by the water, on the lip of the woods,
we cracked open cold beers on the dock, and placing
our pruned toes in the warm water, the outside world
succumbed to blue darkness like a crow’s wing spread over us.

We spent long hours whipping down highways, the roads for us
as familiar as the lines in our palms. (We could find
our way home to the lakehouse from anywhere in the world.)
Crammed tight in the car, my friends, family, were so close
and far from the distance that breaks us now. We sped to our place,
going 80, going 90, flashing past green-studded patches of woods.

Out on the night water, the stars crowned us and we closed
our eyes to find our breaths—here at the lake, a place
where the world seemed to touch the water and the woods.

University & College Poetry Prizes Page