Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poems about Water: Playlist for June 21, 2013

By Amy Lowell 1874–1925
The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
       The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
       Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Maurice Ravel: Introduction and Allegro

The Lifeguard
By James L. Dickey 1923–1997
In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.  
The leap of a fish from its shadow  
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble.  
With my foot on the water, I feel  
The moon outside

Take on the utmost of its power.
I rise and go out through the boats.  
I set my broad sole upon silver,
On the skin of the sky, on the moonlight,  
Stepping outward from earth onto water  
In quest of the miracle

This village of children believed  
That I could perform as I dived
For one who had sunk from my sight.  
I saw his cropped haircut go under.  
I leapt, and my steep body flashed  
Once, in the sun.

Dark drew all the light from my eyes.  
Like a man who explores his death
By the pull of his slow-moving shoulders,  
I hung head down in the cold,
Wide-eyed, contained, and alone
Among the weeds,

And my fingertips turned into stone  
From clutching immovable blackness.  
Time after time I leapt upward
Exploding in breath, and fell back  
From the change in the children’s faces  
At my defeat.

Beneath them I swam to the boathouse  
With only my life in my arms
To wait for the lake to shine back
At the risen moon with such power  
That my steps on the light of the ripples  
Might be sustained.

Beneath me is nothing but brightness  
Like the ghost of a snowfield in summer.  
As I move toward the center of the lake,  
Which is also the center of the moon,  
I am thinking of how I may be
The savior of one

Who has already died in my care.  
The dark trees fade from around me.  
The moon’s dust hovers together.  
I call softly out, and the child’s
Voice answers through blinding water.  
Patiently, slowly,

He rises, dilating to break
The surface of stone with his forehead.  
He is one I do not remember
Having ever seen in his life.
The ground I stand on is trembling  
Upon his smile.

I wash the black mud from my hands.  
On a light given off by the grave  
I kneel in the quick of the moon  
At the heart of a distant forest  
And hold in my arms a child  
Of water, water, water.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6 (Movement III) by Samuel Barber

The Man Who Drowned in the Irrigation Ditch
By Ofelia Zepeda b. 1952
She always got mad at him
every time he came home in the middle of the morning
with his pant legs wet.
She knew he had fallen in the ditch again.
His legs were not strong enough to be straddling ditches.
He was too old to be walking over temporary dikes.
She wished he didn’t do that, but sometimes he had to.
She sometimes imagined him falling over backward in one of the irrigation ditches,
his head hitting hard cement,
his body slowly sinking into the water.
Water that was only three feet deep.
A harmless three feet of water,
where children played,
and ladies sometimes sat and dipped their feet,
especially on hot summer evening.
She knew he would drown,
she knew it was bound to happen sometime.

As far as the eye could see,
flat, green fields appearing to end at the foot of distant mountains.
Mountains, a reminder of what the fields once looked like.
Fields saturated with water pulled from its secret storage place
beneath the earth’s surface.

We are called “the people of the cotton fields”
because of the labor our families did.
For us there was no reservation, no Housing & Urban Development, no tribal support.
We were a people segregated in row houses
all lined up along the roads of our labor.

It is a muggy summer evening.
My father, my sister, and I sit on the east side of the house finding shade against the still-hot setting sun.
The change from brilliant white sun to blue and gold sunset and finally,
to warm darkness, a change we anticipate for brief relief.

On this evening the anticipation is shattered.
A boy comes to the house. He gestures for my father to come to him, out of our hearing.
With what the boy says to him my father moves quickly.
As quickly as his stiff back and legs can move him.
Back and legs broken and fused from when he was a cowboy.
He rushes by, throwing the kitchen door open, grabbing his hat.
He gets into his truck and drives away.

We pay him no mind other than for the fact that he is rushing.
A second later my mother comes out of the house and with a single motion pulls her apron off.
In a tone I recognize as signifying something is wrong, she instructs us to come with her.
She starts in the direction of a cotton field a few hundred yards from our house.
My sister and I walk beside her.
Saying nothing.
Her hands wring the towel she carries with her.
This towel, a multipurpose kind of thing.
Women carry it to fan themselves,
to wipe sweat, to cover their heads and eyes from the sunlight, to shoo away kids, dogs, flies.
I remember once a student of mine, out of habit, brought her towel with her to summer school at the university.
Whenever we see each other on campus during a summer session we always laugh about it.

We continue to walk, stepping over the ends of rows of cotton.
Rows of cotton my family and I know well.
In early summer we walk the rows to thin out the growth,
and later we walk to chop the weeds somehow immune to chemicals.
And in the winter, at least before the machinery, we pick the cotton from their stalks.
Now I can’t begin to imagine how many miles we have all walked,
up and back, up and back along these rows.

We walk alongside her.
The setting sun maintains a continuous pounding on our backs,
the humidity from the damp fields is warm, it rests on our shoulders like tired, sweaty arms.
She heads toward the irrigation ditch.
The ditch is dirt, not cement, it is wide, muddy, and slippery.
The water is shallow.
I see my father’s truck pulling up on the opposite side.
In the front seat there are women, and in the back, men.
The men wedge their feet in between plastic and aluminum irrigation pipes, mud-caked shovels, boots, and hoes.
Equipment in the back of his truck all for the purposes of working fields.
I remember the hoe he carried.
It was big, with a blade that held an edge well and got the work done.
I recall purchasing a hoe for my home and being particularly unsatisfied with the craftsmanship.
“They call this a hoe?” I said to my husband. It had a skinny neck, and no blade to speak of.
The handle was too thin, causing blisters.
Once in awhile I look around for the type of hoe my father carried. I found one once, but didn’t have money to buy it.

In slow motion,
weighed down by the heat,
the women begin to slide across the bench of the pickup truck.
They slowly step out of the cab, appearing as a single long strand of woman, emerging.
In cautious unison they walk toward the edge of the ditch.
My mother, as if connected to them by an invisible string,
is pulled toward them from the opposite side.
Their movement is dreamlike. They peer into the muddy water.
And as if with a shared nervous system, their hands motion the towel each is carrying,
motion it to just above their eyes, covering their faces.
With a single vocal act they release from their depths a hard, deep, mournful wail.
This sound breaks the wave of bright summer light above the green cotton fields.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: At the River (arr. by Aaron Copland)

The Wild Swans at Coole
By William Butler Yeats 1865–1939

The trees are in their autumn beauty,  
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water  
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones  
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me  
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings  
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,  
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,  
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,  
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;  
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,  
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;  
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day  
To find they have flown away?

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Swan of Tuonela, Op.22/3 by Jean Sibelius

Portrait of a Figure near Water
By Jane Kenyon 1947–1995
Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner  
arsonist, held a match to her brain.  
She observed her life: against her will  
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.  
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled  
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it  
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:  
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes  
no sound.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: En bateau, by Claude Debussy

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