American Mercy: Loons, Fear & Who Gets to Decide?



Afua Ansong is a Ghanaian-American writer, dancer, and photographer. Her work interrogates the challenges of the African immigrant in the United States, exploring themes of transition, citizenship, and identity.  She is currently working on a mixed genre project that explores 60 Adinkra symbols believed to have been created by a captured king, Gyaman Adinkra. The first of these poems has been published at JoINT and four more are forthcoming in the Kalahari Review. Her chapbook American Mercy is available  from Finishing Line Press.  Her has been published or will appear in Prairie Schooner, Frontier, Newfound and other publications.



Castle Rock

On Blue Mountain Lake,

a loon settles with his family

leaving no room for others (his kind)

that need rest.

I am told, one loon per lake.

It seems all the water is not enough

to wash his back.

It is happy scaring

the world with open wings that lash

the waters and turn waves into

an angry or beautiful unrest. The guide says

the water is about nine meters deep which

is about twenty-nine feet of which I know

I will drown not for lack of my arms to move

back and forth but because often I let

fear take

the best part of my existence. How I got into this

canoe without alarming this loon surprises me.

The waters have stilled and the canoe plays

a soothing melody. The rocks have aged into comfort,

the trees have withered and their barks hold imprints

of hands that seek discovery. Up on Castle Rock,

the monarchs with paper wings float through the air.

They take deep breaths of risks,

observing a view, they say, a loon would die for.


American Mercy 

“Castle Rock” is part of the series of poems that make up my first chapbook American Mercy. On the surface it is about the wonder and the beauty I was offered at Blue Mountain Lake. With my arrival to the residency and my isolation from the noisy streets of New York, I suddenly felt the history of my new temporary home: this included the history of writers, travellers (Native American) and animals (deer, loon, etc).  In some way, I was carried on the story of migration in a new way and when I finished writing this manuscript and especially this poem, I was grateful for the hike.

Everything in this poem is true: the loon that we encounter while I canoed to Castle Rock and the guide who discusses the territorial nature of this bird as well as how deep the lake is. How elegantly it possessed the colonial spirit and what better place than on this calm lake? I had several reservations about this hiking trip. It was miles and miles away and my body was not used to exercise ( I exaggerate, as many of my friends have told me I am dramatic, but I serve you nothing here but true facts). I begin too with the loon because it is a wonder to me. I have heard of ducks but never of loons. After the trip, I became obsessed with the creature, regretting that I met the duck first.

My anxiety with water floats on this poem and the entirety of my stay at Blue Mountain Center. I go close enough to touch the water, rinse my hands, but never submerge my body because of obvious consequences of death. I know that because I am not going to Castle Rock alone, I will survive and I do, as I lived to write this poem. I move back to the loon (in the poem), my current obsession: somehow, I want to meet it, bold and strong. But it is not the challenge at hand. It is the hiking that gets me overthinking. “How far more do we have to go?” I ask the guide every 2 minutes. On the journey, I am told bears could possibly appear out of nowhere. I don’t budge and don’t include them in the poem either because I have made it too far and honestly, I would have to canoe back myself for about 20 minutes. I had no other choice.

After the great toil, I stand in complete amazement of what seems to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen ( I am a poet and it seems I have run out of descriptions). It wasn’t like anything I had seen in real life: maybe in a painting or perhaps on television. But here, I was elevated to a wonder. God wanted me to write this poem: for in my tiredness and my complaints, being the last hiker in the group to get there I saw something else: a monarch butterfly, not the loon. And I said, what a breathtaking experience it is for you dear butterfly, to see all this and be amazed and to keep it to yourself. I was writing the poem subconsciously all along the journey: thinking about ownership, who gets to decide what belongs to who, who gets a fragrance of the beautiful, who gets to peek and then cannot enjoy a lasting scene? And so this loon who is all big and sings in the water, I wonder if he has seen what the butterfly sees; if he can colonize beauty and ask each creature to pay for a view.