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October 2013, vol 9, no 3

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Glenn G. Coats


An Echo of Hammers

Clarke has a vision. He studies the marsh on the western shore of Mud Lake and pictures a cottage. The land is cheap, worthless, and he buys it for peanuts. Hacks his way through the dense reeds, cuts down trees, hauls in dirt and stone while mosquitoes hover over him like a cloud.

No building permits. Clarke uses what he can find to build the place: doors from a luncheonette, glass from a gas station, and rocks from the forest. Digs a well too close to the lake. Never tells anyone where the septic tank is. "Place is a mystery," someone says. "Wires are a spark away from catching fire."

He pushes wheelbarrows of cement, builds steps down to the water, pours a patio, throws up a bunkhouse for visitors and creates a dock for his boat. When he finishes the job, Clarke drives his family back and forth from Ottawa for weekends on the water.

dusk on the lake
pine trees
become dragons

Years pass, the cottage changes hands, ice storms knock out the power, pipes burst, the floor floods and wood buckles. Concrete crumbles and water from the well turns sour. Tree stumps rot and leave sink holes in the earth. Raccoons live in the attic, mice scurry in cupboards, and robins build nests under the eaves. At night, skunks scratch the grass for grubs as owls soar above ragged pines. Along the shoreline, cattails hold the ground in place. Stories about Clarke still spin when snow fills the hulls of beached boats.

hush of pines
voices I did not know
were there

voices across water
the ashes I scatter
here and there




crane