Michael S. E. Wilson, English, linguistics, religious studies
There was a hymnal I remember singing
around this turtle shell arboretum,
swimming backwards from me, always backwards.
My feet insulated in ashy soil
and I swear I could trace back to every worship
the same way psychics trace foresight
Cedars crowd for space. The compromise between land and lake
with each pull of the moon.
Mirages I’ll make to church.
In a truly guideless night
when the cosmic lanterns have all but doused
and a cumulonimbus anvil presses down on the lakefront
I make my way through heat lightning,
strobe flashes against the wind—
hiding under spatterdock lilies
and abandoned lean-to’s
like alabaster skulls.
Bullfrogs knit daisy chains
while swamp dogs bay splendor across the still.
This marsh asks for nothing
but to die. A lake
to the closing wood.
Meadows dreaming of the water they used to be.
This religion will not last.
Ash and mud wash off with each genuflect
and the water clouds jejune.
I see clouds overhead and try to name them—
stratocumulus, horseshoe vortex, orison.
It doesn’t matter.
There’s a harvest moon tonight
multiplied on the waves
And I see a blue heron measure out its sail,
buried stones waiting to be transmuted
I think of camp as a very sacred space, filled with unique rituals and practices that give it a special vernacular. For me, summer camp was a deeply formative experience during my childhood that carried with me through college, to the point where I decided to revisit the hallowed ground as a counselor two summers ago. Clichés be damned, it was a lifechanging event, so much so that I took to writing a great deal about my time there in the woods while counseling a rotating list of one hundred or so kids every week, ages 8 through 16. It was a period so full of light and stress and change that it felt removed from the real world, or any world I had lived in, and floated like an isolated glen of trees in the middle of some unnamed lake. I have often remarked that one of the biggest thanks I give to my ten years of Catholic schooling is its gift of language, one that is used to connect the material things of our world with aspects of the divine; thus, I wrote “Burgeoning” with the genuine intention of framing—though, as is the case for many Catholic spaces, not locating—my summer camp by drawing threads to a spiritual and often esoteric language, words like “genuflect” and “orison” that feel both archaic and fresh. More than anything it’s an appreciation piece, fusing childhood faith and wonder with the recognition of liminality. For all its sweeping bursts of exultation the piece tries to maintain self-conscious borders, that this is a beautiful space created instantly once the first hymn is sung and lost after the final sermon has been delivered.