Published on Academy of American Poets (

Lake on the Hill

Often I walk the dog at night.
Once around the block, maybe twice,
And sometimes we head up to the reservoir.
If it's snowing, I put a little coat on the dog,
Booties if they've salted the street.

Everything you need is up there.
You can see for miles and you've got a lake,
Not large, the water black and still.
Emptiness where the city ends and farmland begins,
Lights of the houses below, and if you're quiet—

Sounds you couldn't actually hear.
Clock ticking on the wall, pipes,
A nightstand with a lamp, a desk, pencils in a cup—

Then it's time for the dog to go home,
Have a biscuit, go to bed.

Sometimes there's a kid with a skateboard,
No cars, they close the gates at dusk.
Not really a lake: it's lined with concrete,
The opposite of an island
But it beckons, as islands do.

I like arriving or leaving.
Thimble, Block, Brigantine—

When I burned my journals some of it caught 
Immediately, a brown stain
Spreading from the center of each page.
Some was stubborn: gray scraps
Rising like messages in the air.


From The Iron Key by James Longenbach. Copyright © 2010 by James Longenbach. Used by permission of W. W. Norton.


James Longenbach

James Longenbach is the author of five poetry collections: Earthling (W. W. Norton, 2017), The Iron Key (W. W. Norton, 2012), Draft of a Letter (University of Chicago Press,, 2007), Fleet River (University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Threshold (University of Chicago Press, 1998). Also a literary critic, he is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester. He lives in Rochester, New York. 

Date Published: 2010-01-01

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