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Marie Bahlke at WMUK radio in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Lake Pokegama

(Excerpt from a memoir-in-progress)


By Marie Bahlke


Aunt Matt up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, told us Pokegama meant “spider” in Chippewa. She and her family couldn’t use their cottage on the lake because my cousin Bob was ill. They offered it to us. We summered many years on that spider’s body—leggy inlets off in the distance.

We three kids, Helene, Jack and me—in the early years Dick was too small to be a part of it—spent most of our waking hours on the beach. We walked out on that sandy bottom till our chins touched the water—water so clear we laid our faces on the surface and saw our feet.

Then we were off, swimming to Blandins’ raft with its wild games of tag. Certain we wouldn’t drown, we held our breath and dove beneath to escape from “It.” Often we were in the canoe, paddling to deep water and always, our dog would follow, nose in the air, tail floating, paws busy just under the surface. Then we’d deal with getting his waterlogged body into the canoe.

Sometimes we tipped. That meant righting the canoe and getting ourselves—and Gob—inside. Mother couldn’t see us from the cabin.

The air so still, the water so calm, we’d explore the bottom close to shore, turn over the occasional log that drifted in. Underneath, always, bloodsuckers lurked. Looking like narrow slices of liver, they’d ride in our sticks. Shuddering, we threw them on the sand and watched them shrivel like frying bacon.

Weekends, when Daddy came, Mother always told us “spend time with your father in the water.” So we did—trying to mimic his top-like twirling, our toes in the air, arms flailing. Secretly glad when Monday came and we could go back to our wildness.

Pokegama had its own wildness. Storms hit us directly. Between our cabin and Blandins’ house, the forest of young birches bent like ballet dancers. We slept on cots on the screen porch, used the ledges to keep our books and other treasures. If the storm came fast, we rushed those treasures to a dry spot, then struggled to get the heavy canvas blinds down and buckled to the walls. They puffed out like sails. Rain came in waves. We pulled our beds over to the walls, and escaped into the enclosed part of the house. Mother lit the gas lamp. Its gossamer mantle hissed as it burned, and we huddled around it till the storm blew itself elsewhere.

In August, when winds were constant and days short, I began to feel homesick—not for Duluth and home, but for what I was leaving. I collected small treasures in a wooden dried codfish box—snail shells, stones from the beach, and if I was really lucky, a loon feather.



Kalamazoo, Michigan, resident Marie Bahlke started writing poetry in her 70s and she recently celebrated her 94th birthday. Her book One Oar follows her husband's life from the time he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease until Bahlke is left a widow.

Listen to TSP editor Zinta Aistars interview Marie Bahlke on WMUK radio, the NPR affiliate station in Kalamazoo.


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