Harp & Altar
POETRY
Donald Breckenridge

Oisín Curran

Heinrich Heine
translated by Peter Wortsman

Zachary Mason
from The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Derek White
from Marsupial
The Connection Between Mary X. Lake and the Containment Pond

Leni Zumas

The Connection Between Mary X. Lake and the Containment Pond
Derek White

It was at this lake where we used to fish for catfish. It was a manmade lake our father had surveyed and named after our mother. Unlike most of the murky lakes in Georgia, this lake was clear as a chlorinated swimming pool. A sign identified it as Lake Germfree, though I knew the real name. As a kid, at this lake, I always wondered what bait looked like to fish when we were fishing for them and what the fish looked like as they contemplated the bait. I dove under to find out.

When I opened my eyes I could see perfectly, but saw no fish. There were hundreds of bare hooks hanging from the mirrored surface that I was careful not to get snagged on. I took off my shorts so they wouldn’t get hooked. This made sense at the time. I sensed the fish were there but could see better than me and were keeping their distance in the open water. The water was so clear it was black. As I remembered it, there was a shelf near the shore that John and I suspected was a favorite place for fish to hide. Taking a deep breath, I went down to look under the shelf. Something darted in the shadows. I went further under after it. I followed the darting shadow down a passage into complete darkness. Then it got light again and when I emerged I was in the containment pond at the Gaston sewage treatment center. It was night, but the scene was lit by powerful artificial lights. Taking another deep breath, I retreated back to the lake. When I got there, I was in a boat and the lake was now walled in with cliffs of meat (just like in the script from the movie we were engaged in). There was a staircase cut into the meat cliff but I was having a hard time paddling toward it as the waves were getting bigger. The meaty shores of the lake were receding. Water splashed on my face that tasted of salt. The salt triggered a premonition of a coming hurricane. I had to decide whether to:

a) go for the stairway cut into the meat cliff or

b) retreat back underwater to the containment pond.

I decided on (b) and hung out with some garbage men who were also there at the artificially lit containment pond waiting the storm out. Their role in this was to pick up garbage in boats to take out to a big barge in the ocean, or “wide moat” as they called it, but they were holding up at the pond because of the storm. At least that’s how things appeared on the surface. I found out later they all had law degrees and were moonlighting as garbage men to “delay execution.” When I asked, “execution of what?” they answered, “execution of god’s will.” Then one of them asked me, reading from a script, if I had called my mother.

[beat]

Then he shouted, “line.”

Someone from off the set whispered, “shouldn’t you at least let her know where you’re at.”

The garbage man lawyer repeated this line with more conviction.

When I didn’t answer, another of the garbage men lawyers repeated the line again, “shouldn’t you at least let her know where you’re at?”

I kept brushing it off because I didn’t want to come off as a “mommy’s boy.” All the garbage men lawyers started pitching in, interrogating me like I was on trial, their voices in unison, sometimes overlapping, over and over, saying, “shouldn’t you at least let her know where you’re at?” I realized I was listening to an old soundtrack on vinyl. The needle wore so deep into the groove it hit a nerve, waking me up.