I suffered through depression for the better part of a decade in a much earlier life. I allowed a dark part of my mind to have control back then. I tell people that I read and wrote myself out of my depression. This is true. The poem I am sharing today was written during that time. I was twenty-something and visiting friends in Harlowton, Montana—friends I met while attending Montana State University.
I wrote the poem after several of us—both men and women—drove to an open prairie lake in the middle of an empty September night. Drunk and disoriented, we all removed our clothes and swam together under an open sky.
The poem is entirely about me.
I have rewritten this dozens upon dozens of times. I posted an earlier version of this poem on February 6, 2010. Though I might change a word or two, or alter a line, the “gut” feeling of this has never changed. I suspect I will never be done with this.
Those Years Gone
Beyond Harlowton, on flat prairie flecked with sage and ryegrass,
the nightsky became so heavy with stars it sagged and touched the horizons.
We shivered, stripping off our clothes,
waves licking battered stones at our feet,
on the shore of a lake I remember only as deep, cool, and naked as ourselves.
Wind carried wheatsmell down from Canada.
Stickwilllows rattled in the dry arroyos.
We dove, swam.
Your last girlfriend had married some cityboy.
I watched you tread black water,
wondering how that sky to pregnant with stars could lack, so utterly,
And how that wind followed us back to the car.
We were wet, transparent, without hope.
Back at the lake, I heard waves piling against clay banks.
A distant coyote howled out in a language only the endangered understand.