River, Garden, Lake

Carlotta Johnson


On a grim day we sought Trevelyan's pool
an adolescent memory hidden, below thistled
banks was the cold river where nymphs swam.

Cath and I dove in. With their arched bows
they shot arrows straight through thick mist
and bright sun cascaded upon us.


Mama Paulina arrived each morning
to dig the scorched garden hoping
for the rains. Clods of sun-baked earth
resisted the energy she poured forth.

At three p.m. she washed her hands in a tiny pail
a circlet of green appeared where her drops plashed.


It's still a joy to remember
the smell of lake
the fun of leaving shore in the white dinghy
to reach Cochise, the red sailboat.

We slept under the wooden thwarts
Robin and me rocking-rolling on sleepy water.

Carlotta Johnson writes:

Carlotta Johnson

I have lived in three different countries in my life and write about them. Growing up in Wisconsin, then going as a secondary school teacher to Tanzania, East Africa and then coming to Northumberland. I have lived in the North East for thirty years.

My writing started with letters because of being away from my first home since 1966. I wrote travel stories and then poems and also have a couple of children's stories. I have been published in Rialto, Blinking Eye, Flarestack and Artemis; attending workshops and doing the occasional writing day with fellow writers has given me practice and fun. The long slog of writing requires patience and persistence all of which I wish I had bigger supplies of.

Time is running out for me I think, and much of my attention is given to two Tanzanian projects: Suncatchers promotes the use of ovens which use sunlight for cooking rather than firewood or charcoal; Jitegemee is a small English fundraising group helping some personally known teachers build a primary school near Dar es Salaam. I hope the fire for writing will keep strong inside me. I was invited to teach a poetry workshop in a high school in Washington DC last month. It was a big challenge and was successful. I was trying to help the sixteen year olds believe in their voices. Recently Peter Mortimer went to a refugee camp in Lebanon and plans to write about this experience. I sent him a poem I had written about using olive oil from Palestine. He said he would use it in his book. Small actions like these make writing a work of importance for me.

About this poem: I have been lucky to grow up by a lake in Wisconsin and to have had days of wonderful experiences there. Each year I try to get on a river trip for a week, camping and paddling. Water in many forms and in many places interests me and continues to be a source for my writing work. The pool in Northumberland was a place a friend of mine wanted to find again, she had as a teenager gone swimming there when she worked at Wallington Hall. The river runs through a small hamlet of Hartburn. I am working on two projects in Tanzania and the incident with Mama Paulina showed me just how precious water is to a subsistence farming way of life. And the final part of the poem is about Oconomowoc Lake in Wisconsin.

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River, Garden, Lake © 2009 Carlotta Johnson: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.