Troubled Water


How I’d like to say I’ve brought a secret
from the other side. Some message from the ghosts who lumber
through our sleep. But I have brought back nothing.
Another child, wordless as a fish, smooth
as a waxy petal. She is sleeping on a quilt in the middle
of the lawn, white flower quivering
through thick water near the bottom of the sea.

Those first mornings while the fat sun swam into the sky
and I paddled back and forth across the shallow end,
the child would sometimes bobble up inside the womb.
Back and forth each morning, I would singsong beneath
my breath, Someone swimming in me swimming in . . .
Above the glassed-in roof a bird rowed through scuds
of mist. All around us the watery world, the boom
and splash of voices over the surface of the pool.

The sky turns gray. The walk outside the clinic
just long enough to pace between each wave of pain.
At one end, the deep lawn, fields, an orchard,
the trees and rooftops of the city. Strips of cloud trail
onto the mountain to the east: rain, at a distance.
Wet wind swells across the valley, down
from the upper slopes where water drops from pine-tips,
sinks into the grass. Where rain slants through aspens
into shoals of wild mint, of white columbine bobbing.

Once I forgot how to breathe.
Good, crooned the midwife, groaning’s good.
Groaning’s fine.
But the pitch kept rising,
filling the room with someone else’s wail.
A sound you’d hear at night,
far from home, belling
across the water. Not that the even, counted
breathing absorbs pain. But without it,
you lose your way. You circle somewhere
in the middle. You never come home.

Today while this daughter sleeps, I watch the shadows
sway uneasily beneath the trees. My body is still
fragile. I’ve heard other women say they slid
into eternity, that the hidden mother opened beneath them
as they opened. I was too busy easing
my way back to notice. Now, beneath the neighbors’ car,

a small white cat stretches its neck, eyes me as if I knew.
Rolls itself into the dust, one paw in the air,
gazes at me over its back. White tail, white head
twist in and out, a flood of allusive gesture.
All I can think of—tallest mountains floating
like a frozen crust on molten rock, deepest sea a film
of water pooling. Trees on the high ridge ride a wind
I can’t feel. They billow and ripple away
from me. Already she closes her eyes when I come too near.

About the author(s)

“Troubled Water” was the winner of the 1995 Eisteddfod Chair Competition.


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