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  • Writer's picturePenny Harter



Some things about this time of year—the earlier coming of dusk, chill whispers of fall on an occasional night breeze, slight flickers of yellow, even red, scattered among still green leaves, and now this morning’s craving for escape from the continuing pall of Covid—these lead me back across years. What can we do to appease it, this desire to achieve the past? my late husband once asked me. Perhaps, this . . .

Learning to Swim

my feet sinking

deeper into wallows---

retreating tide

I was eleven or twelve the summer after my Nana died, when the whole family went for a week to my great-aunt and uncle’s old cottage on Raccoon Island, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey.

I remember little of that time now, only the flashes that childhood memory stores in its pockets:

The boat ride to the island when I dropped Nana’s pink plastic bathroom-cup overboard, and my Poppy cried.

A place Poppy set for Nana every meal, and his talking to her as if she were there.

The hairy black spider big as my hand nesting in a porcelain bowl on my bedside table.

Rocking on the old screened porch overlooking the lake as the sun set.

The dark boathouse with its damp boards rimming the edge where I sat, feet lapped by shadowed ripples, lowered a safety pin on a string, and caught a small fish.

And the small, rocky lake-filled depression at the shore’s edge, just large and deep enough for a child to learn to float, tread water, and doggy-paddle.

The lost pink drinking cup, the enormous spider, and that first-caught fish have surfaced in the nets of other poems, lost now in former books. I’ve been learning to swim ever since, catching what I can as it floats by before I throw it back.

autumn dusk—

following vees of geese

until they’re gone

© 2021 Penny Harter


A few weeks ago I searched online for the family name and cottages on Raccoon Island and found an old photo of the very cottage mentioned below. Even read some references to the cottage name when family arrived to “open” it, and to my ancestors visiting there in various community newsletters of the time.

Here’s a link to a photo of the cottage:

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