I used to have a sister. She died years ago under unfortunate circumstances, and Lake Superior holds her ashes. If you’ve read my novel “Eye of the Wolf,” what happened to the main character’s sister (Melora’s sister) is similar to what happened to my sister.
People often ask me if parts of the novel are autobiographical. Of course, the story is drawn from my experiences, and I combined the traits of several friends to make up a character or two. (They know who they are!) But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s autobiographical, especially not the werewolf parts. (Grin) It’s the same with the poem below. It’s not about my sister but it contains her essence. I remember feeling like the ugly duckling compared to her more classical beauty.
Although I know that poems are supposed to speak for themselves, I would like to explain this one. The poem is about two things I love: Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Estuary. (The river in Minnesota, not Missouri.)
My love for the estuary came second and was harder won than my love for the lake. Lake Superior is what the tourists come to see. It’s picturesque and impressive; easy to love. The estuary is part of the less glamorous, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-let’s-work Duluth-Superior Harbor. It’s where taconite, coal and grain are unloaded from trains onto ships, where salt and cement dust sit in stockpiles, where polluted Superfund sites were left for us by our forebearers. But farther upstream, the river gets as wild as any federally designated wilderness. You just have to get out there and experience it to know.
I came to appreciate the estuary when I worked for Minnesota Sea Grant and the St. Louis River Alliance, both water-related organizations. Lake Superior is so huge, it’s hard to feel like you’re having an impact, whether one is a polluter or a restorer. The estuary is more manageable, and impacts can be seen more easily. I liked feeling that the work I did made a difference to the local environment.
The appreciation took a few years to grow, but it’s in me now and doesn’t diminish the respect I have for the lake. It’s like the parental cliché about adding another child to one’s home. Your capacity to love simply widens to encompass two instead of one.
Or it’s like having a sister. I hope you enjoy the poem.
I am the quiet, hard-working one.
My sister gets all the attention.
She is larger than life, loud, showy.
I am slender, forgotten, kind to animals.
Her eyes are icy blue.
Mine are a warm brown.
My sister has a temper.
You know when she’s angry.
She’ll slap you and swallow you whole.
I am calmer, still dangerous, but
my hands are gentler.
These days, people are taking notice of me.
A team is giving me a make-over.
I may never be as popular as my sister, but
I have a lot to offer. It’s all a matter of
making the most of my assets,
repairing the neglect and over use,
restoring the smooth skin of my youth.
My sister, she might get jealous, but what can she do?
I’m protected by my friends who stand in a line between us.
Besides, what does she have to be mad about?
My life flows into hers.
What helps me, helps her.
©2013 Marie Zhuikov