You drink the cool clean water and smack your lips, refreshed.
Elsewhere, in this same country, the water is not clean, must be boiled, then drunk.
Elsewhere, you might be dying to drink it as is, and damned if you do.
Elsewhere, water means business. It thickens wallets. You will pay for it.
You could ask whose future is being spent down to the last hovering drop.
You could ask about thirst—who thirsts for a better life and who for just a life to grow all the way up in.
But you don’t. You drain the glass and turn on the tap for more. There’s never not been more.
This poem, written 20 years ago and finally published in The American Journal of Poetry in 2019 (with deep thanks to editor Robert Nazarene) unfortunately addresses a continuing and current situation (I’m thinking of Texas). It was inspired by watching my thirsty ten year old son gulp down a glass of water and imagining this conversation. He must have heard me – he continues to ask all the right questions about this world that he and all our kids and grandkids will inherit.
Thrilled to have two poems (“Paradox” and “Elsewhere”) included in Volume Seven of The American Journal Of Poetry alongside the work of poets I’ve long admired! Many thanks to editor Robert Nazarene for ushering them into the larger world!
A hard uphill climb past faultless
rocks and towering tribes of trees—
heart, leg and arm muscles
pumping steadily, sweating so much
I become a sea of tiny rivers
heading for a self-determined shore,
my lungs emptying, filling, in an
incoming, outgoing tide of breaths
bridging the centuries:
I breathe the air of the living
and of the dead, of heroes and
villains, of those asleep—curled
tight as buds, and those who’ve risen
to reap the blossom of their genius.
Molecule by unforgotten molecule,
the gasp is laid against the sigh.
Now, simply inhaling the storied air
between mountaintop and valley
and returning it, warmed, into the world
becomes historic and intimate,
an act of love in the arms of creation,
a means to living largely in the smallest
of ways, like the length a lotus stalk
will grow to uphold a lily pad.
How my lungs still heave! – as if they
know that breaths not deeply breathed
will amount to a life not fully lived
in the carnal kingdom of the body,
its ecstatic depths not drunk from.
That if I thirst for this, and cannot speak—
so parched my lips—I must climb then
the trail of every tear that can.
An older poem, inspired by the mountainous landscape in which I live, first published in North Shore Magazine before being included in my earlier chapbook “Stealing Eternity”.