Dale Cottingham.

landscape photography of grass near body of water

Dale Cottingham has published poems and reviews of poetry collections in many journals, including Prairie Schooner, Ashville Poetry Review and Rain Taxi. He is the winner of the 2019 New Millennium Award for Poem of the Year and was a finalist in the 2022 Great Midwest Poetry Contest. His most recent volume of poems will appear in Autumn, 2022. He lives in Edmond, Oklahoma.

The Girls At The Lake

As if the world they see
all around,
allowed them routinely
to laugh, splash,
as if they have no care for tomorrow—

those who let them—

World in which,

if for no other reason, than
out of fairness, knowing
that I share with them the world,
I think they should have their chance. . .

If I don’t wait, if I join them, if we
flirt, feel sun on our shoulders,
does it count as harm against the earth—if we

spend the afternoon soothing in water
thinking only of ourselves as if the self
is something bright and departing always, something

that remains untouchable—will we
have damaged the earth, if we didn’t do our best
for the earth, or think about it, or try to –

as if damage to the earth figures here, even if
no one sees it, in this moment, or in moments to come,
if no one sees it for a generation, or more than a generation

like what is held in the heart that mounts over a lifetime,
then emerges, choice for self over the good earth,
meaning we did not do our best,

water lapping hips, thighs, sun on well-tanned tans,
our feet in the sandy bottom, a choice I fail at,
my failure reverberating beyond where I can see . . .