Watery Graves: Writing the Res

Our final "Last Saturdays at the Barn" event of 2016 focused on unearthing the complicated and fascinating story of the surrounding Ashokan Reservoir. Participants viewed a portion of the documentary film Deep Water, read and discussed poems by renowned local historian and poet Bob Steuding (The Heart of the Catskills, Purple Mountain Press, 2008); poet, environmental activist, and farmer Wendell Berry (Farming: A Handbook, Counterpoint, 2011); and Gail Thomas (No Simple Wilderness: An Elegy for Swift River Valley, Haley's, 2001), a poetry collection based on the parallel history of Massachusetts' Quabbin Reservoir.

After lunch and a generative writing break, we shared poems, planted the seeds of ideas for projects, and fondly recalled our own Catskill Mountain memories. We ended the day composing a collaborative poem by writing lines in-between those of Jay Ungar's iconic lament "Ashokan Farewell." When we finished, we removed his original lyrics, leaving just their ghost.

Enjoy—and see you next summer!

Ashokan Reservoir, 2016

Ashokan Reservoir, 2016

What we knew and couldn't tell

The leaves flit like apparitions
as books turn their pages and trees unfurl bark

as smoke wafts up chimneys like ghosts of desire.
Turning and turning I still see your face,

the touch of your hand resting in mine
like a breeze in the willow.

Who will gather the violets?
The secrets whisper their answers,

but the dishes aren't done—and tonight you're the one.
Yes, love, though we're much slower than we were years before,

will we plan days far into the future,
share dreams through the night?

Will every verse repeat and rhyme?
Will you find me again and lead me home?

Under the moon, another moon.
Over the reservoir, stars thicken.

Vows tucked tight in breast pockets
in lockets of silver veins—

till someone renames them again.


—Collaborative poem by Valerie Linet, Stephen Wilder, Anique Tayor, Cindy Hochman, Karen Neuberg, Catherine Arra, and Lissa Kiernan based on Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell."