Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out.
What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.
— Robert Frost
Come in, come in. The water’s fine! You can’t get lost
here. Even if you want to hide behind a clutch
of spiny oysters — I’ll find you. If you ever leave me
at night, by boat, you’ll see the arrangement
of red-gold sun stars in a sea of milk. And though
it’s tempting to visit them — stay. I’ve been trained
to gaze up all my life, no matter the rumble
on earth, but I learned it’s okay to glance down
into the sea. So many lessons bubble up if you know
where to look. Clouds of plankton churning
in open whale mouths might send you east
and chewy urchins will slide you west. Squid know
how to be rich when you have ten empty arms.
Can you believe there are humans who don’t value
the feel of a good bite and embrace at least once a day?
Underneath you, narwhals spin upside down
while their singular tooth needles you
like a compass pointed towards home. If you dive
deep enough where imperial volutes and hatchetfish
swim, you will find all the colors humans have not yet
named, and wide caves of black coral and clamshell.
A giant squid finally let itself be captured
in a photograph, and the paper nautilus ripple-flashes
scarlet and two kinds of violet when it silvers you near.
Who knows what will happen next? And if you still want
to look up, I hope you see the dark sky as oceanic —
boundless, limitless — like all the shades of blue in a glacier.
Listen how this planet spins with so much fin, wing, and fur.
— Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
You live your life your way and leave me alone.
I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said, Thank you, we are hurrying.
About cows, and starfish, and roses there is no
argument. They die, after all.
But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming
generosity, how can they write you out?
As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.
— Mary Oliver
after Bob Hicok & Aracelis Girmay
Now forty-five, having outlasted some of
myself, I must reflect: what if I hadn’t been held
by my mom in the YWCA basement
pool, her white hands slick under
my almost-toddler armpits, her thumbs
and fingers firm around my ribs (which
is to say lungs), held gently as a liverwurst
sandwich and pulled, kindly, under?
What if I hadn’t been taught to trust
water might safely erase me those years
I longed to erase or at least abandon care of
my disoriented, disdained body? I might have
drowned instead of just ebbed, never slid
from given embankments into this other
Drift and abundance in what
she offered. The wider, indifferent ocean
of trade and dark passage not yet
mine to reckon. And so now, sharp tang
of other waters known, I am afloat, skin-
chilled, core-warm, aware of what lurks
and grateful to trust and delight
in our improbable buoyancy.
— Elizabeth Bradfield
Not in small painted towns whose color rips
The solitude of shores kelp-strung and gray,
Not in La Jolla, Carmel, Monterey,
Your beauty lies — minxes with rouge-smeared lips;
Not along wharf lines where a city dips
Its dirty fingers in the pile-split spray —
San Pedro, Newport, San Francisco Bay —
Scumming your waters with the bilge of ships:
Yours is a torn and wistful beauty, born
On lonely beaches when the tide is low —
Fog tangled in the marsh-grass… a forlorn
Blue heron wading in the afterglow…
Dull silver lapping on a wet sand-bar…
And lost wings circling near a ghost-white star.
— Doris Caldwell
And what about this boulder,
knocked off the mountaintop and
tumbled down a thousand years ago
to lodge against the streambank,
does it waste itself with worry
about how things are going
to turn out? Does the current
slicing around it stop itself mid-
stream because it can’t get past
all it’s left behind back at
the source or up in the clouds
where its waters first fell
to earth? And these trees,
would they double over and
clutch themselves or lash out
furiously if they were to discover
what the other trees really
thought of them? Would the wind
reascend into the sky forever,
like an in-drawn breath,
if it knew it was fated simply
to sweep the earth of windlessness,
to touch everything and keep
nothing and be beheld by no one?
— John Brehm