Gold-flecked, dark-rimmed, opaque— like a toad’s stolid unsurprise— the lake never blinks its hazel eye. Manmade, five feet deep, the exact square footage of a city block. Lakewater murk precipitates a glinting silt of algae, specks of soil, minnows wheeling in meticulous formation, the occasional water snake, angry, lost.
Two pale figures in the lake, half- submerged, viewed at an oblique angle. At thirteen, I spent summer afternoons reading in my treehouse, a simple platform without walls, like a hunting blind, a white painted birdhouse, without walls [End Page 147] so no bird ever visited it. Leaf-light dissolving in still water.
Two pale figures in the lake, half- seen, chest-deep in the mirroring lakewater so they seemed all bare shoulders, all lake-slick hair. Standing face to face— not embracing, but his upper arm entering the water, half-unseen, at an angle that must have meant he was touching her, beneath the surface. Unblinking, the lake giving nothing away, caring nothing for whatever shape displaced it, unremembering, uncurious. Did his arm bend, and, if so, to what exact degree? At what point did his hidden hand intersect her half-submerged body? The mirrored horizontal of the lake is where memory presses itself against its limit, [End Page 148] where hypothesis, overeager, rushes to fill the void, to extrapolate from what is known. Because I knew them both: Ann Towson, a year ahead of me, scrawny, skilled at gymnastics, gold badges emblazoning the sleeve of her green leotard, her chest as flat as mine. And John Hollis— the most popular boy in our class, his tan forearms emerged gold-dusted from rolled-up shirtsleeves. He fronted a band called White Minority, which played at weekend parties across the lake. We shared a bus stop, a subdivision. Once he spoke to me, the day I swapped my glasses for contact lenses. Something’s different, he said, eyes narrowing, Yeah, no kidding! I snapped back, turning away. Later, my best friend scolded me for rudeness. Every day, boarding the school bus, John Hollis faced the bus driver [End Page 149] with a bland smirk— What’s up, black bitch?— as if shoving her face down into a puddle scummed with humiliation, which was always dripping from her, dripping down on her— she hunched her shoulders against it, narrow-eyed. Each day, some kids smirked, some kids hunched down, stolid, unblinking.
Two pale figures in a lake, half- witnessed, half-conjectured, a gold arm like sunlight slanting down through lakewater. But now a clinging, sedimentary skin outlines every contour: what is known. No longer faceless shapes displacing water, the voids they once inhabited can’t be lifted dripping from the lake, rinsed clean enough for use. What drips from them coats the lake with a spreading greenness— an opaque glaze lidding the open eye. [End Page 150]
Monica Youn is the author of Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016), Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and Barter (Graywolf Press, 2003). Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including the New Republic, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, and Best American Poetry. She has been awarded the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University and the Witter Bynner Fellowship of the Library of Congress, as well as residencies from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio, the MacDowell Colony, and the Corporation of Yaddo. She currently teaches poetry at Princeton University and in the MFA Program at Sarah Lawrence College.