Poems by Gary Lawless (Artist-in-Residence, 1997)

Host Rock
Isle Royale National Park
Lake Superior

"Isle Royale"


A place where the wolves are wanted,
where human beings bring our awkward blessings
to moose bone, wolf scat, loon song,
where we allow ourselves to blossom
among marsh marigold, rock harlequin,
Calypso orchid, Labrador tea.
Where we peel back layers of fog, moss, rock itself –
Inside there is sunlight
Inside there is wolf song
the light step of the moose,
berries waiting to ripen
where the light never touches –
all this light
at the heart of things.



Paddling home after the poetry reading,
10 PM and an hour to travel.
The sun has just gone down,
leaving us beautiful light.
The lake is flat.
There is no breeze.
Beaver slaps his tail.
Various ducks and loons let us know –
Once we hear human voices and see
a lantern, in a cabin window
behind the islands –
Let it get no darker
Let it stay this calm
and we will travel all night,
longer, into this peace of
land and sky, coming together
somewhere, just beyond us.



Water connects with water.
Six days with little rain.
The moose is in the swamp.
Ducks begin to speak.
We walk the ridgelines
thirsty for everything:
that yellow flower,
that bird overhead -
Without knowing, we drink,
leave with the island
inside of us.



Layer upon layer of leaves
settles slowly,
moss growing on top.
Layer upon layer of lava flow,
minerals rising to fill the veins.
Burned bare ridges and parallel bogs.
As we walk our minds
drop layer upon layer
down to host rock:
tough, bare, essential.
The wind can’t harm us.
The water, all around,
touches, touches,
waiting for the glacier.



I’m scared of the glacier.
It’s coming back, I’m sure of it –
It’s been here before, several times –
It was cold this morning.
I’m sure I saw ice in the cove.
Are all the birds flying away?
Everything seems to have fur.
Is that fog?
Are you sure that’s fog?



Walking home at 10 PM,
night before the solstice full moon,
very pleasant walk to my
cabin hermitage when
Oh no! a hell of
candy wrappers, toilet paper and
one two three four times
“Jeff and Theresa”
scratched into the rock –
May they die alone,
never seeing each other again, in a
swamp where their bones are
never found, not even
by the wolves –
We are an unwanted, introduced species.

"For the Earth Watchers"


The bones of the saints
are carried from the cedar swamps
by pilgrims who return, year after year,
to seek out the holy sites of departure.
Here the moose spirit
has left its host rock.
How we lie down
sweet and hungry.



Every beautiful morning of the world
I choose the fog
I choose the wolf
I choose to learn to walk again
on moss with the moose through
water in air,
water under foot,
breathing the breath of the world
on every beautiful morning.



Nothing but moosetrails in the mist,
today’s fog and wind,
trees against sky.
I want to disappear into cloud,
wander my way to sunlight,
follow the moose down
secret trails in the woods
to reach the places where the wolves
rest upon the ridges, within us,
where the heart wanders, wild.



Deep inside the
rock becoming
fossil –
No longer here –
The wind keeps moving,
moose go on their way,
birds land, and leave –
clouds, fog, sunny days –
Everything sinking, slowly
into stone –
Comes the day and we’re gone
( no longer visible –

-harder and down-)



These gifts the island gives:
the moose swimming across the harbor
the moon rising above fog
flowers along the trail
the sweet gift of birdsong you
can’t wait for the island to come to you –
The gifts are given without warning.
You must be there watching, listening,
and the gift must move like water –
You must pass it on
in whatever way you fashion.


(All poems reprinted from Caribou Planet, Blackberry Books, 2015, with the permission of the author)


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Last updated: January 15, 2020

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