… until my middle name is excess …
             P.J. Harvey


That should be enough.
Start here.

We go to Dave’s cottage.
To go is happy.

Big waves on the lake and
thunderstorms predicted.

I will sit on the porch and
try to think.

Prepare for thinking
(in the car as we go)

by reading a book
found in the garage,

Heritage Dictionary
of Indo-European Roots,

where I learn ‘to think’
comes from root men-,

(zero grade *mn-) as in
mind, memory, mention, maniac, museum, money, admonish, monster.

Money? Monster?
A linguist could explain these

but let’s press on.
Men- has three variants,

men [2] ‘to project’,
giving us mouth, menace, mountain;

men [3] ‘to remain’,
as in manor, manse, immanent;

and men [4] ‘small, solitary’,
seen in minnows and monks.

If you meet the Buddha,
kill the Buddha –

old monk saying.
Don’t look for a kernel

of [whatever you need]
in the forms of things,

seems to be the message.
You peel off the shell,

get another shell.
Thunderstorms (evening)

fail to arrive.
A burning haystack

topples cleanly, ingeniously
into the lake.


The lake at dawn
is a plate of itself

all the way to the edge
of the stony vault of heaven.

Wave and a wave and a wave.
It is some of the coldest water

I ever swam in.

all day after.
Yet I would not exchange

shooting along in that icy green trance
for anything.

Generally I admit
my spirit strays all over the place

but there
in the numb stream

it narrows to an absolute.
An absolute what?

Absolute crossroads.
Breathe or die,

the body says,
so you roll,

stroke, breathe and go under
for another.

If someone tosses you a tea bowl
catch it,

is another piquant monk remark.
No tea bowl here, night, no sunset,

dark as dark.
Crickets stitch it in place.

Other little sounds out there
I don’t want to know.


Nightlong thunderbolts
move me from thinking

to rethinking.
A lake,

rather than (say) opium
or being queen for a night at a Dadaist cafe,

has always meant luxury to me.
Now ‘luxury’ itself

leaves a bewitching and severalfold semantic trace,
according to the Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots,

originating in leug, ‘to bend, turn, wind’,
which gives Old English leac

(leek or garlic) as well as
locc (lock and locket) but also

Latin luxus (dislocated)
and luxus (excess, of ‘plants

growing obliquely or too much’).
Rethinking garlic and bent plants

I head for the lake.
Lake is wild and even colder

after storms.
It is so cold I feel insane.

Short swim, same joy and joy and joy.
Dave returns tomorrow.

We’ve lingered long enough.
Waves tumble

on the lake. Packing up
I consider

how I mostly spent my time here
avoiding thinking.

Pure-hearted moments were had
in the lake. ‘Lake’,

this old bare word,
fills me with symmetry

just to look at.
That stone Buddha deserved

all the birdshit it got
is some monk advice

to prevent
lofty thoughts on departure.

A little and a lot,
a little and a lot,

is how the lake goes
on, green, deep.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences