Cold Ridge by Lakeside, by John Petelle
I saw a madman on the ridge by the lake.
Declaiming poetry to unseen listeners.
I cut through the grass, ignoring the chill damp,
captivated by his unabashed voice.
He delivered memorable lines, famous poets,
and some I had never heard.
Denim-clad legs striding with purpose.
Arms waving, flinging words to the sky.
Dark flannel shirt whipping behind them,
a grizzled tomcat flailing at strings.
His head swung wildly; thin strands of hair floated.
A weak ghost of his past.
He was not discreet, shouting with abandon
until weeping made his tone a husky whisper,
speaking lines about loss, and the death of a dream.
I heard about Whitman, a sweaty-toothed madman,
a passionate shriek, then his visions went silent.
His pale eyes flashed upon me.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live in solitude!
The company of birds, not the company of men.
And not when I came to die,
discover there is no milk left in Paradise.
Begone from my sunny dome!
You, and your unwelcome business!”
My face flushed,
shamed by invading his dream.
I mumbled an apology, so quiet and short,
he may not have heard or cared if he did.
I turned my back, fled to the walking trail,
seeking solid footing on the loose rocks.
Behind me, rage in his throat,
the unconventional one
emptied his lungs,
twisting Lord Byron as he banished me,
“He walks away,
and it is beauty, like the night!”
I went past a bend, around an evergreen.
Shielded from sight, I listened,
drawn to hope the poetry would resume.
I heard the movement of branches,
the splashing of water on the shore,
but the mysterious bard was silent.
Scholars say history repeats.
Pivotal moments mirror through the ages.
I played my unwitting part today.
I wonder if the spirit of Coleridge
flutters around me, cursing my interruption,
as his summer palace crumbles again.
John Petelle is a Desert Storm veteran of the Marine Corps. His career includes time as an editor, elementary school instructor, technology startup member, and Veteran’s Service Officer. A cook, gamer, and pet parent, John lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. Current and pending publication credits include literary journals, anthologies, and magazines in both print and online form.
Interview with John Petelle
1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been dedicated to writing since mid-2017, although I dabbled for a bit before committing to it.
2. Is writing your full-time job? If not, what is? Writing became my full-time job right before the first issue of Oscilloscope came out. Before then, I served as a Veteran’s Service Officer for the State of Nebraska.
3. What inspired this work? “Cold Ridge by Lakeside” was a mash-up of a walk I took through a local park, the Robin Williams movie Dead Poet’s Society, and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”
4. What writers or artists inspire you and your work? On the fiction side of things, Roger Zelazny, Glen Cook, and Anne McCaffrey had a huge impact on my early reading. For technical skills, Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg really opened my eyes. For poetry, the beat poets are a driving force for me, especially the narrative styles. Levi the Poet is a spoken word tour de force; Franny Choi has some volatile work I admire. Three Nebraska poets with a tremendous influence on me are Tye, Henry Zander, and Ell Kinsey.
5. What would you advise those interested in becoming published writers? Write, read, write. Don’t give up on yourself. Perhaps second only to ‘write’ is to find yourself a community of writers/poets to interact with. My local writing group, Tiny Freshwater Lobsters, is a huge part of my success—not only for their technical prowess but for their encouragement and support.