James Benning’s 13 Lakes: a novel

by Travis Jeppesen on November 24, 2011

1. Jackson Lake


Dawn had me looking. I think the indifference well suited. Not too many tropes, though, it is true. More a type of sizzling, that ripple. Pink light on the mountains over yonder. Daddy tells us it’s too cold to swim. You let the sound of the ripples sway you. The way the light goes further down the crag as time wears on. Will we get to see it reach the water (does it reach the water?) I don’t have to see my reflection, I am not in this. It is a lake because you can see the other side.


2. Moosehead Lake


Through a haze. Shadows keep moving. Water and sky made from the same stuff. Bubbling noise somehow makes it real. Certain days I look at myself and I think I’m so unreal. Could it be that my life is there beyond that tree. I think that’s the other side of the lake. Those four clusters. Or is that an island. What sort of land are we divorcing. Is that a question that a lake asks itself. I don’t know what I am. Throng moves through me like a ghost. It begins to clear, I think I can see the shore. Maybe I’m standing on it. I’ve swam through much more hostile waters than this. Some forms of hostility leave stains. On the consciousness, I mean. But I’m removed from that image. I’m sort of like the clouds up there. If you stare at the clouds long enough. How they move. Makes you feel like you’re moving. And you are. The land. It shifts and it revolves. We’re never in the same place even when we stand absolutely still. All ground is liquid. All time a mutilated reminder. The water is still. And still it happens through us. I keep reminding myself of no energy. Like the lakes it seems we’re dodging. My god that cloud how it suffocates. It looks as though it’s rising from the earth. From the other side of the lake. That that distant land is somehow the source of the cloud. Or it’s not clouds, it is one cloud, singular, one great one. Engulfing the great mass that is the sky. Threatening to overtake us all. Put us back into that sardonic wasteland we had imagined we had escaped from. We’re all lost in the movement so alert.


3. Salton Sea


Boats cut lines through the paths our newness. Somehow feels invasive and yet the water belongs to them, the boaters. Does that take possession of it. Just as though a skater might own a frozen lake as she makes her way across it. Cutting lines. A painting out of water. Those dusty hills are the backdrop. A mousy mist in the foreground that can scarcely compete. My reaction is static, savior. Boat makes the water float toward us. The changes that occur need science to measure them. One of us gets mad at the boat for being so meddlesome. Consider your reaction. Now waves. More violence prophetic jetski. Those aren’t hills, they’re crags. Imagine when the water was much higher. The sky was meant to be swallowed. Boats will be up in the sky. Too bad there aren’t any shadows. I don’t know why. The skyscape lakescape empty of birds. Nothing alive that cannot put the lake in a place of comment. Water escapes to contract afar. I am no longer vibrating. This is something other from calm.


4. Lake Superior


Something seethes beneath the ice it’s alive. Am I Alaska? Frozen tundra stars in this show. All gamy, molten tender and erupted. Waves wanting to break beneath it all. But can’t get the momentum going. Can’t go up up. Oil tanker crawls slowly toward us. Lighthouse nods its approval. The grind of being there. There must be men upon that ship that swells. I am the whale that eats the iceberg. I eat everything I smell. I can taste what I’m not made of. The ship is going away, another shore. The children that drown here will be perfectly preserved. Awaiting discovery by another seabed. Here comes the reminder what I was going after. The line that drops down any minute now. The great beyond gone fishing. But now it’s gone. No more patience with this interference. Very little movement within the tundra. The stillness comes, all the amalgamates start to break, my fears have returned. It could all erupt any minute now. Where would that lead; breaking…Flies toward me, allows my perspective to protect it. Maybe I myself will go ashore. Where does everyone else go.


5. Lake Winnebago


Seems ambiguity just arrived to rescue us. One of those few mornings I was awake to see. A delicate lapping. You can stick your big toe inside. Nothing will bite it. Birds coo their precious melody. I laugh at it, dreaming. Dreaming to be wide-awake is asleep. Purple and gray two colors that look the same. Announce the crystal clear. Or is that the sky singing its yellow heartache emptiness. A glimmer on the other side that can’t be seen. Perhaps the knife of the neighbors being reflected. In the early morning glow of sleet. I’ve gone through different phases.


6. Lake Okeechobee


Springtime greenery allows us to take it all in. This more like a pond. The cloud sculptures in the sky are trophies. Somehow the rocks jutting out of the shallow water resonate with the shapes in the sky. One of them, the rocks, could be a hippopotamus head. Or perhaps an alligator. Mining its prey…But it doesn’t move. Dead head. Rooms of lush green on the other side, swim over there give the foliage a hug, that’s what it deserves. Not this something else of the nearby train. The land would have to stand still long enough for us to erect a train track across the ocean. Instead we have the lakes to bear our burdens. Humanity’s firetraps. We set what’s around the lake on fire. Springtime my tragic reverie. Bored at a time of lost indulgences. Light comes to clean out the ellipse. I think I’ll turn this into a painting to cancel out all movement within the frame. It subtles brusquely. The nerve center of that weed that emerges. A whole family grows on algae. They await a janitor to come and disinter their grounding. Make it out to be false, something to be looked at. The hippo widens on the shoreless repose. I’m not the beaver that swims past its mother.


7. Lower Red Lake


Now the clouds have grown so heavy they can’t help but overtake the placidity of the waters they shield. Seems as though they’ll break at any moment, add even more water to our water that’s so calm we don’t want anymore of it. It’s perfect: a glass fixture that moves on past us. Our feet in the shallow water right off the shore. Eyeing the vague greenery of what can be made out on the other side. We don’t want to go there, we don’t want to know it. There’s the thunder that signifies our time is almost…The deep dark blue that masks the horizon’s point. That must be where the planet comes to an end. Don’t bring your ship out there, it’ll fall off the end that’s painted there. Just imagine when the earth was flat, the people who came from the other side were the aliens. We are aliens among ourselves whenever we travel. Birds cut the cross, must want to get to the underworld. Can you imagine? Water thinly covers the layers of orange underneath. Pregnant soil that will soon give birth to a new species of storm. What will we name the first one? For that is our job, as humans: to name things. Our big accomplishment. Flows at the pace of lava. Water moves in cloudhills. They need a rest at this moment in their life, recharge the electricity. I want to break into the sky, buy an apartment in a cloud, though I know I can’t. I’m one of those earthbound rovers. Looking for a chance to be myself. Amongst all this wreckage. Could it be that the sky bleeds a tornado. I don’t think it does. We know when the water thins out it will be our last chance to feel all right with the moon.


8. Lake Pontchartrain


I am god a bridge cut across my face tonight. There are shallow passes the gray water escapes under. A grumbling signifies man’s contribution to the mass. You can hear how angry it is by the way it crashes against the shore unseen. That thrashing arhythmical. It belongs here as much as my teeth the virgin waves jutting down to the unseen beyond. A thick matte gray that allows for no indication of how deep this lake might be or is. Little dashes little dashes in the sky. The overall so colorless, as am I. Once a boat, now a car, makes an appearance from afar. High and rocky but now swayed. Helicopter dissects my left eye. You are your own universe when you lick the sky. We’ve all shattered the yesteryear’s year. Body that rests next to me. I am traveling in those cars over there.


9. Great Salt Lake


And in the morning we came upon a hill. It was looking saintly. As we hadn’t seen any solid surfaces for quite a while. So we stopped the boat. And shared a silent regard. As others whizzed past us. In their velocitous incomprehension. Must have been urbanites. For the birds have no such concern and we are more like them than we are ourselves. At least it looks like that. You stuck your hand in the water. To wash off the fish stink. That had demoted us. Oh but I wasn’t one to be lost at shore. This is most likely autumn, I thought. As I pulled the wool jacket over my shoulders. And stared out in the same direction as you. It was an unlikely sight to stare at. Unlikely because it was no different from everything else nearly we had seen on this long journey. The shapes of the hills, unremarkable. The slightly perturbed state of the water. Still not enough to dispel this overall smoothness. The light smoke rising from the surface. As though to infer the temporary burning of its waves. But you didn’t have to struggle very hard to cool down. Yes, these are all matters for the stupid diving geologists. Unlike them, we have nothing to take. We’re only drifters with various recording devices. Like the birds, we search for a home.


10. Lake Iliamna


Unseen cloud nefarious seems to be sucking up all the energy from this sea. A battle is being fought between two forces, each lacking a sexual base of control. Not unlike what happens in that transitional moment you see when nature’s absurdity bashes equilibrium in the face till it bleeds. The blood that doesn’t wash away gets eaten by the insects that dwell in the holes of this machine. Light cascades forebear. Hidden microphone picks up all that sucking away. Feels so threatened. And yet the spectator still clings to neutrality, oh, how unfair it seems. Beyond this hazy hue, an inference of blue. Right in front of those hills…A land mass that is most definitely inhabited. By what tribe, no one can name. Grayblue gray. White green gray blue gray white bluegray. White gray. Darkgreen blue gray white bluegray. White green darkgreen blue. Gray white bluegray. Greenblue.


11. Lake Powell


Is there some functionality out there on the mesa? Water so strongly resembles blue silk, it cannot be trusted. And the egyptian brown desert that surrounds it: this must be manmade, all of it: nature doesn’t come like this. I was born to be surrounded. Eerily devoided of non-mineral life, well, that means no life at all. Unless blue silk can live through its shimmering. A helicopter once dropped a man and it was so deep, it swallowed him right up. Never seen or heard from again. It’s a comfort, to be so coveted. To live on top of that hill and look out and say, This all mine! Faint figures on the shore, can’t make out what they’re doing. Thought approaches them. Oh no, that’s a boat. And so what they’re on must be a peninsula, couldn’t see the water behind them. Sorry for all the misinformation, shout out. They cannot hear. They are on the other side of this world. Not in the one I inhabit. Could be it’s not a lake at all but a particularly wide section of the Colorado. I don’t know. All I know that it is strong-willed enough, deep enough perhaps, to have ignored any influence of sediment. No substance brave enough to breathe in these vast waters. Can you blame us for wanting more all the time?


12. Crater Lake


Here we are before the country had been discovered. The perfect laughter of the birds. Everything still. Could almost be a fantasy: a nineteenth century american landscape. Erosion on that hill looks like a cross; our protestant forebears. Clouds don’t move, water doesn’t speculate. The hills so beautiful in their bruised nakedness. We’re in a place where there is no change of seasons. (Perhaps.) All so beautiful, one can’t help but hear shooting in the nearby. The shooting continues but we can’t hear the screams of what’s being killed. Perhaps the prey has been disgraced in another place. I have been more than once. But what am I. A less sophisticated animal. This is a national park our natural heritage. Whoever this our is supposed to be. That collective unity the birds see from a distance. If we stare long enough, forms bleed into one another: a reflection of the hill and the lake becomes the hill itself, lake disappears, gunshots ring out. Lake’s been reduced to a utilitarian device. All things that reflect are the only things that’re real. I’ll try standing still as possible. Because I want to become one with this. Yes…I don’t care about getting shot.


13. Lake Oneida


It seems the waves rushing toward us with such urgency because they have a message to convey. But they don’t know how to say it, so they continue rushing. Daylight sets off an alarm clock. It is morning. And we will rush through this day. I won’t be a rider on this stormlessness. I love how the sky is painted so low. It is a curtain that is about to come down on all of this. The water that is slow. The water absent from all time. No shadows, no steam. Just a chance to pop out. And be what’s yours. There’s something humane about not seeing another human for so long. About not being one, either. No one sails here. A dark private trespass. Typically too cold to swim, could be a eulogy. The type of water one goes to dump one’s ashes. I’m sure it must be full of them. But then there are others who offer to save us. Keep what remains on their shelves. A whole life condensed to a souvenir. I won’t swim in that ocean, but I will try to stand beside you for as long as I can. Until the waves overtake us. And we give up on our longing. And just give in to the ripples that the sky has promised.

One comment

Thanks for sharing this with me. It’s rather nice. jb

by James Benning on November 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm. #

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