Wolf Lake

Elizabeth Bachinsky

It was down that road he brought me, still

in the trunk of his car. I won’t say it felt right,

but it did feel expected. The way you know

your blood can spring like a hydrant.

That September, the horseflies were murder

in the valley. I’d come home to visit the family,

get in a couple of weeks of free food, hooked up

with a guy I’d known when I was a kid and things

went bad. When he cut me, I remember

looking down, my blood surprising as paper

snakes leaping from a tin. He danced me

around his basement apartment, dumped me

on the chesterfield, sat down beside me, and lit

a smoke. He seemed a black bear in the gloam,

shoulders rounded under his clothes,

so I tried to remember everything I knew

about black bears: whistle while you walk… carry bells…

if you don’t bother them, they wont bother you…

play dead. Everything slowed. I’ll tell you a secret.

It’s hard to kill a girl. You’ve got to cut her bad

and you’ve got to cut her right, and the boy had done neither,

Pain rose along the side of my body, like light.

I lay very still while he smoked beside me: this boy

I’d camped with every summer since we were twelve,

the lake so quiet you could hear the sound

of a heron skim the water at dusk, or the sound

of a boy’s breathing. I came-to in the trunk of his car,

gravel kicking up against the frame, dust coming in

through the cracks. It was dark. I was thirsty.

I couldn’t move my hands or legs,

The pain was still around. I think I was tied.

We drove that way for a long time before

the Chrysler finally slowed, then stopped. Sound

of gravel crunching under tires. I could smell the lake,

a place where, as kids, we’d come to swim

and know we’d never be seen. Logs grew

up from that lakebed. All those black bones

rising from black water. I remember,

we’d always smelled of lake water and of sex

by the end of the day, and there was a tape of Patsy

Cline we always liked to sing to on our way out —

which is what I thought we’d be doing that September

afternoon. That, or smoking up in his garage.


You know, you hear about the Body

all the time: They found the Body…

the Body was found… and then you are one.

Someone once told me the place had been

a valley, before the dam, before the town.

But that was a long time ago. When the engine stopped,

I heard the silver sound of keys in the lock

and then I was up on his shoulders, tasting blood.

I think he said my name. I think he walked

toward the woods.

Dive in
  1. Who is the speaker in this poem? What has happened to her?
  2. This poem was inspired by another poem of the same name by the poet Matt Rader, in which two young men witness a man pulling a woman’s body out of the trunk of a car. In her poem, Bachinsky switches the point of view to the woman in the trunk. There is a long tradition of poems that are direct responses to other poems and in particular, poems that approach the same story but from another character’s perspective. For example, Christopher Marlowe’s romantic poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,  in which a young shepherd makes a play for the woman of his dreams by promising her a simple and beautiful life surrounded by nature, inspired Sir Walter Ralegh to write the rather biting and cynical response, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” in which the shepherd’s love interest rejects him because she finds his “pretty pleasures” lacking a certain security. In what ways does Bachinsky’s choice to shift the poem’s point of view alter the story?
  3. How does the poet use natural imagery throughout the poem? What does the comparison of the killer to a black bear suggest about human violence?
  4. What do you think happens after the poem ends?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, what tone would you use — angry or calm, chatty or chilling?
  6. Think of a poem that you really love that includes at least two different characters and write a new version of it by changing the perspective of who is speaking, as Elizabeth Bachinsky did with Matt Rader’s poem (listen to the two different versions in the Helpful Links below).





Hear poet Matt Rader read his poem “Wolf Lake” that inspired Elizabeth Bachinsky to write her version in this short film by Michael V. Smith:



An interview with Elizabeth Bachinsky and filmmaker Michael V. Smith:



Michael V. Smith’s short film of Elizabeth Bachinsky’s version:


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Bibliographical info

after “Wolf Lake” by Matt Rader, Miraculous Hours (Nightwood Editions, 2005). 


Elizabeth Bachinsky, “Wolf Lake” from Home of Sudden Service (Nightwood Editions, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Nightwood Editions. Reprinted by permission of Nightwood Editions.

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