Lake Dweller
by Leah Mueller

The road to the water rises and drops
and the temperature
on my dashboard clock
says eighty, but I always have
to subtract three
to arrive at the correct number.
I don’t know why
this is important, my insistence
upon the precise calculation
of the heat, but it soothes me,
almost as much as the water
which emanates from a distant glacier
whose name I never remember.

I imagine Lake Michigan,
that first perfect summer afternoon-
swimming for endless hours
as my mother reclines on a towel.
She stares ahead at nothing
through dark shades, listlessly
smokes bent, sand-encrusted cigarettes,
and pats coconut lotion
on her thin, reddening body.
I run towards the water
while transistor radios
compete with the sound of waves.
Laughter rises and falls
with the water’s pull, until I fall
asleep, face downward in the sand.

Later, at home, I peel the swimsuit
from my overheated body,
leave an uneven trail of sand
along the bathroom floor,
step cautiously into the bathtub.
My skin is completely brown,
except for the parts
that I had to keep covered,
and the white part of my body
shines like a raccoon’s eyes.

Today I park in the shade
and walk carefully toward this other lake.
As hot gravel pellets sink
into the soles of my feet,
I stumble past a line of rusted grills,
whose embers still breathe a trail of ash.
The surface of the water
is peaceful and cold, even flatter
than the land I left behind–
that place far to the east,
where buildings are revered, but not mountains.
The sun disappears behind the curtain of trees
and the vapor chill rises
as my skin makes contact with the water
for the first time since I went away.

PHOTO: Postcard of Oak Street Beach, Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois (1950s).

me in pool1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an independent writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of one chapbook, Queen of Dorksville(Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012), and two full-length books, Allergic to Everything (Writing Knights Press, 2015) and The Underside of the Snake(Red Ferret Press, 2015). Her work has either been published or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Origins Journal, Talking Soup, 2 Leaf Press, Semaphore, MaDCap, Cultured Vultures, and many other publications. She is a regular contributor to Quail Bell magazine, and was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival.  She is more inspired by water than she is by anything else she could possibly name.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION:  Me hanging out in the pool,  Tacoma, Washington (2014).