Contributor’s Marginalia: Matt Morton on “Lake House“ by Michael Homolka
I’ve always been drawn to literature that presents life from the child’s point-of-view. There’s something wonderfully refreshing, and often eerie, about experiencing the world through the eyes of someone who is just starting to recognize life’s complexities and disappointments. This strange combination of heightened perception and naiveté is what makes the child’s point-of-view so compelling, and childhood, at times, so confusing.
Michael Homolka’s poem “Lake House” renders this confusion with a verisimilitude worthy of Faulkner’s Vardaman or Woolf’s Jacob. From the poem’s outset, Homolka creates subtle tension by managing the dramatic irony that results from the difference between what the reader and the speaker understand. The child speaker, who has gone to spend a week’s vacation with a friend’s family, finds the trip to be anything but a relaxing escape. From the first line, things are in danger of falling apart: “I can see the rift in the lake as David’s father yells again.” It is an uncomfortable situation that must be familiar to many of us: the claustrophobia of spending time with another family, during which time events that we might have accepted as normal in our own homes—having nothing to compare them to—are suddenly revealed to us in a new, startling context.
The threat that looms within every line of “Lake House,” at once tender and disturbing, is all the more menacing for how quietly the tension builds. True to the child’s experience, the conflict often seems to occur on the periphery, and events are presented objectively without comment:
He won’t stop saying to David
Your mother doesn’t know how to drive a boat
At the house he eases onto the sofa turns on the game
If one isn’t reading carefully, the first half of the poem might seem uneventful, which is precisely one of the poem’s wonderful effects: with its lack of terminal punctuation, its fragmented observations, and its silent rendering of decidedly unquiet events, the conflict sneaks up on us, as it does for the speaker, until the devastating final couplet throws the entire experience into another light, sending us back to the top of the poem to read again.
Matt Morton was a 2013 Finalist for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a 2013 Finalist in Narrative’s 30 Below Contest. His poems appear or are forthcoming in West Branch, Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, New Ohio Review, and 32 Poems, among others. He lives and teaches in Baltimore, where he is an Owen Scholars Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. (www.mattmortonpoetry.com)