Into the Lake
by Penny Harter

Gone now the fading pink plastic
drinking cup, slowly degrading at
the bottom of Lake Hopatcong,

the very cup Nana had used, the one
that lived on a wooden shelf below the
mirror above the pitted bathroom sink.

The cup was atop a laden paper bag,
and I accidentally knocked it from the raft
taking us and my newly grieving Poppy

to an island where the family cottage
roosted among dark pines. I lost the cup
overboard, and Poppy screamed.

His anguish echoes even now, a glissando
running up and down the keys of the
out-of-tune upright piano that sat in

the parlor of his brown-shingled house
on a tree-lined suburban street.
And in the house’s ample pantry,

another pitted porcelain sink, and the
lingering scent of almost burnt toast
redeemed by cinnamon and liberal sugar.

Once, my husband and I revisited
that past. I mounted the peeling steps
to knock on the door, then peered into

the living-room window looking for Nana
and Poppy, for my mother, and for
the stained-glass window blessing the

landing at the foot of the stairs. Thank
God it was still there, still prisming sunlight
into radiant dust, but the rest had long gone

one-by-one into the lake, settling like years
of layered silt, though sometimes rising
to cloud the reedy bottom.

SOURCE: Previously published online in Visual Arts Collective.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Losing that pink cup is one of the enduring memories from my childhood. I was around 12 when my grandmother died. Witnessing my grandfather’s grief doubled my own, and the cup loss became symbolic. Then, while writing about that loss, I found myself revisiting my grandparents’ house in South Orange, New Jersey, also feeling the loss of time and place. But one can’t “go home again” except, perhaps, in the reliving that comes with writing about the past.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter’s recent books include The Resonance Around Us (2013); One Bowl  (2012); and Recycling Starlight (2010; reprint 2017). Recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in a number of journals, including Adanna, Persimmon Tree, Rattle, Tiferet, and Tattoo Highway, as well as in numerous anthologies. A featured reader at both the first (1985) and the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festivals, she has won three fellowships from the NJSCA; the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the PSA; and two residencies from VCCA ( January 2011; March 2015). She lives in the southern New Jersey shore area.