with/without: a poetic collaboration between my uncle and I, eighteen years after his death.

The Process: Appropriating copies of my uncle's Journals.

The Process: Appropriating copies of my uncle’s Journals.

The collaborative poem between Jeff and I.

The collaborative poem between Jeff and I.


I put this together for an exercise in my poetry class, and it meant so much to me that I thought I’d share. 


This photograph was taken the year I was born (1994), by my Uncle’s ex-girlfriend Maya. The object I selected for this exercise is his camera, which is, unfortunately in a box in my parents’ basement. The camera was the medium through which he saw the world. He left behind thousands and thousands of undeveloped slides that offer not only a glimpse into his expeditions and travels, but also into his personal life. The pieces of writing I have selected are taken from his journal entries. When he died in 1995, he left behind about a dozen tiny notebooks detailing his expeditions. These entries were written in Peru and Australia. The pages are thin and his handwriting is fading, but the words remain as strong and as impassioned as they were at the time of writing (the exact dates of the entries are unknown). 

 My uncle, Jeff Lakes, was a mountaineer and a professional photographer. He died alongside Allison Hargreaves climbing K2, but summited Mt. Everest along with many other mountains before his death. His photography has been featured in many climbing magazines, and his legacy has been carried on through books and television specials that discuss the fateful expedition in which he and six other climbers died.  Peter Hilary, his climbing partner, discussed this is his book, Into the Ghost Country, and in this article, which is a valuable read, if mainly to ascertain the importance of all of the lives lost on August 13, 1995. http://www.peterhillary.com/article-in-the-name-of-the-father/ 

 Because this is such an overwhelming and difficult subject for me, I’d like to quote Bob Mckerrow on Jeff’s last moments before I dive into my own expression through poetry:

 “The seventh man, Canadian Jeff Lakes, turns back too late and is buried by an avalanche in his tent. He digs himself out, but can’t find his ice axes, crampons, harness or anything to eat. He makes it down to Camp Two hand over hand, with little pieces of tape stuck over his eyes in place of sunglasses, urged on by walkie-talkie by his companions below.

But he is doomed anyway; what is left of him goes quietly as his friends sleep at his side. One of the men who talked him down and cuddled him for comfort is Lake’s climbing partner – Peter Hillary, the eighth man, the only one to make it down and out and home.”

Although I was still an infant when Jeff died, I have felt a lifelong connection with him (whether it is spiritual or paranormal I’m not sure). He has found his way into my writing over and over. His favorite band was U2, and it is worth noting that in this exercises I will be using appropriated text from the above article and quote, as well as U2 songs, and of course his journals. I will pull from previous pieces inspired by him as well.

with/ without

 a last, heaving breath

the long, slow swell of death

beneath the snow.


a film canister

of multi colored fish

from peru sits

on my bookshelf


the moment you died

your pictures flew off the wall

the shower steam 


the scent of food

cooked at base-camp


the notebooks smell

-the same, musty smell 

of the east

that they describe


the camera lens might as well

be cracked

the slim plastic

of a slide

from 88

propped on the windowsill


you are smiling from inside

the still, flexible screen


the cigarette burn

is still on the backseat 

of your stepmother’s car


by teenaged angst


your crampons, your ice axe

your walkman and tapes

-your mother

still wears your jacket

eighteen years on.


we drink tea and talk

about the flurry of ex girlfriends

that built a wall together 

at your funeral


something that isn’t there

pulls my hair in my sleep

and i know that granddad is gone now.


the canoe you made

is full of beer in the summertime

and your journals see daylight 

at least twice a year


your mixed tapes

burned from radio

and gifts from friends

are the soundtrack 

to my sixteen year old sadness.


joy division

the talking heads

-the closest i could get to you


and there is no consolation

no developing these last eighteen

or so years

into photographs


the dark room is closed for business

there is only space for light.

6 thoughts on “with/without: a poetic collaboration between my uncle and I, eighteen years after his death.

  1. Joshua Lakes says:

    Jeff was my dad’s cousin would have loved to have met him myself, I was ten when Jeff passed although I had known of him I don’t know much. Through the years It has brought great interest to me about his life, but little is available.


  2. Mike says:

    Awesome poem! I grew up with Jeff from grade school through high school. I’m sure we made some of those radio recorded mixed music tapes together, as well as getting in and out of trouble together. I remember well his stories and amazing slideshows, (and beers) that he would share with myself and Bruce and Petrina when he returned from his many climbs. We were so looking forward to his recounts of K2 and I was personally very saddened to learn of his tragedy, but was comforted by knowing he was doing what he loved most.


  3. Steve Labelle says:

    I met your Uncle at ISLAND Lake Lodge in Fernie. We were both taking our Level one AVY course. Jeff was touring with an 80 LB back pack and keeping up with us with our ten LB bags. I was an inspiring mountaineer and to meet such a humble climber was amazing. He told us a few stories and Ill never forget him. Even to this day, even thou I only met him for three days i always think of him . Hence twenty years later I found this site. Dean Potter died today an when I heard that I instantly thought of Jeff. Peace to all

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s