The speaker of this week’s poem says everything he needs to about himself in how he pays attention to the world. A cove is “sickle-thin, half-hidden” and filled with “an eerie quiet.” He imagines how Thoreau’s attention to “the bracing fragrance of decay” must have been shaped by losing his brother suddenly.

This speaker doesn’t detail his own losses, but he doesn’t have to. He walks into the water and watches what happens. He wants a nearby bird to give him an answer. The natural world, like this poem, only gives what it can, but maybe that’s enough.

David Sloan teaches at Maine Coast Waldorf School. His debut poetry collection “The Irresistible In-Between” was published by Deerbrook Editions in 2013.

Muddying the Waters

By David Sloan

The trail, rock-clogged and sodden

after last night’s rain, curls along

the lake’s edge, past goldenrod,

cedar, the last asters, until it opens

to a cove, sickle-thin, half-hidden

by swamp maple, ringed by reeds.

I slip off my pack and sweat-soaked shirt,

then ease into the water, clear

until the bottom billows up murk

with each step. It’s so shallow

I clear the tree line before I’m in

open water up to my chin.

Thoreau stood submerged like this

for hours, fully clothed, but he preferred

swamps, the gnat-hum, sizzle

of dragonfly wings, skimming jesus

bugs, wild huckleberry and bilberry,

the bracing fragrance of decay.

Such attention to minutiae. How

could he not, after losing his brother

to a nicked finger? One careless pass

stropping a rusty razor, John awoke

to stiffness in his jaw, then sweats,

seizures, frenzied final gasps. . .

I exhale under water, follow

the bubbles up. When I surface,

an eerie quiet fills the cove.

The only other witness stands

unmoving in the reeds, a heron,

silhouetted question mark,

whose sudden downward beak

flick and bent-winged takeoff

become one kind of answer.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2015. It appears here by permission of the author.