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Brit Washburn

A Lake Quartet

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It's 9 O'Clock on a Wednsday eveningBrit Washburn
00:00 / 00:26

After Hoagland’s Field Guide


Once, on a path around the backside of the lake,

I saw a rabbit cowering in the bramble, barely visible, 

its tweed coat almost indistinguishable from the winter grass.  


And I took your arm 

to slow you down, 

and point it out, without a sound. 


Then the three of us were all

motionless, our eyes locked, wondering, 

perhaps, who would make the next move, 

away or toward, who might hurt whom.


But the cold was too much, the sky 

too grey to pause for long, and so we trudged on

through the mud, leaving that small, wild thing 

to fend for itself, as all of us must. 


And we kept talking 

ourselves into that hole of unknowns, joking 

caustically to warm up, and diffuse 

the tension of everything that is 

forever at stake, distract ourselves 

from the wind’s leather strap, lashing us

for the hubris of being here at all.


And the lake’s surface cracked and refracted

like so much thin ice, and we went back

to your place and ate and drank and danced and fucked.  


And none of it mattered. Not much.






I think now they were swallows,

not swifts, dipping and diving 

above the lake the other evening, 

their iridescence invisible 

in the dusk.


Every afternoon, I come home

to wreckage in the kitchen, 

my two teen-aged sons 

having been left

to fend for themselves 

for too long. 


rarely gets out of bed, says 

he hates it here, hates being

alive, finds consciousness 

unbearable, apologizes, can’t 

wait to be gone.


The other hates me 

for asking him to do the dishes, 

brings me butter lettuce, young 

kale he’s grown from seed 

and I make a dressing 

of olive oil, lemon, 

Dijon and salt,

toss in some pistachios, 

avocado, grape tomatoes.


I could forgive them 

anything if not they me.


My small daughter wants 

ice cream, wears a butterfly 

mask, pretends she has wings, 

flitting and fluttering up 

and down the sidewalk, calling out 

the colors of flowers.


A message from the vet says

their records indicate our cat 

is due for his rabies shot,

and I wonder how it is 

their records don’t also indicate 

he was euthanized there, last month.


All of this makes me 

want to call my father, makes me 

want to be held, makes me 

want a drink, though I had too much 

the other night and so 

know I shouldn’t, know instead

to swallow hard, walk 

back to the lake, watch 

the birds again and think on

what has hatched, what 

they’re so hungry for, what 

they, in fact, are.




Early Out on Beaver Lake


The sycamores, philanthropists 

in late life, let go

their bronze and copper coins 

along the path.


The lake lies 

perfectly still, a lover 

in wait of light, reflecting 

rowboats’ painted hulls, belly-

up on the grassy bank, the dog-

woods’ muted maroons 

and greens, suggesting 

symmetries everywhere, 

or the illusion of them— 

the entire scene a Rorschach test 

to determine what might be made 

of a given day, what wasted.


Canada geese camouflaged in autumn 

fog—a flannel cloak the morning wears, 

then casts off when the sun appears—

call and respond in a native tongue

I do not speak but sometimes think 

I apprehend.  (Where are you?  I am here.  

Are we safe? Who knows, who knows?)



In the Clearing


I meant to make note

of how, during a snow-

storm a couple of weeks

ago, the south and west

sides of the lake were sheltered 

by a stand of trees, the north 

and east exposed so that,

when I came around the bend,

sleet and hail stung my face,

and it became an effort 

to lean into the wind.


But then, out again 

the next day, those same 

places that had been 

undercover, in shadow, were now 

frozen solid, a hard crust and black 

ice making the path treacherous, 

while in the clearing, where 

the elements had been

worst, sun had begun

to thaw the hard earth, 

slush and mud an easier 

surface to navigate, 

a softer, safer place 

to find my footing.  I was sure 

this meant something.








Brit Washburn

Brit Washburn was born and raised in Northern Michigan, and educated at Interlochen Arts Academy, The New School, University of Hawaii, and Goddard College.  She works as a writer, editor, and Montessori school teacher and lives with her children in Asheville, North Carolina.  Her poems and essays can be found in various publications, in print and online, and at, which consists of a reader’s reflections on religion and relationship, with recipes.  Her debut poetry collection, Notwithstanding, was published by Wet Cement Press November in 2019.

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