“Nothing noble as water, no,
and there’s gold with its glamor . . .”
Pindar on trumpet—First
feisty Olympian Ode to the horseman,
Daring us, across the years:
Look to excellence only.
Water, you’re pure wonder! here’s
February, and on the pane your
frost in grisaille shows how you flowered
all last summer; it
Stencils clover, witchgrass, mullein
meadow; between boskage gleam
Shores of Lake Michigan, her snow pagoda, junks of ice.
Farther off, spray and breaker, and your clouds
That hush color to a shadow as they pass,
While snowflakes—just a few—go moseying
Around . . . over . . . That cloud-coulisse
valentine of a window!
Back of its ferny scrim
scene after scene of a gala performance!
That’s the show, and in lights too,
Booking all the world for stage.
Now let’s make believe there’s a magic
camera, sensitive only to
Loading film that blueprints hidden
wetness in things—profile bold
But pearly the pulp of it: highrise, traffic, elm, marquee
Like electronic pointilliste machines;
On sidewalks, prismatic people, prismy dogs;
Ice-palaces for home. They effervesce
Of course. Water’s alive with light.
Spawned of the ocean, life’s macromolecules
Begot history and time;
culture their afterthought. Our own
Body: mainly bog. Like
trees walking? No. Walking waves
Are what we are. Flesh briny. Our bone-shack sways
to, smells of, the sea-wrack.
If we’re stormy, halcyon too,
no surprise, with such Surf, doldrum, and seiche in us.
Water-freaks? Every last one. (All but death,
Old bonehead who, teetotaling, totals all.)
Thanks to wet ways, we live here.
You’ve seen films of the Hindenburg?
Sky afire and the human
Rain from the clouds? But that’s
hydrogen’s way: a psychotic companion
Turning—in a flash—berserk.
As for oxygen: sulphur’s
Cousin, arsonist, a false
Friend to metal, apt to explode our
sleepy haze of sawdust or wheat.
Sickrooms venture its
Name in whispers. Breathe it straight a
while, and your throat burns, your head’s
Logy, disoriented—you're a weakfish gulping sky.
(Nitrogen-thinned, it’s breathable.) We’ve two
Irate djinns here—and what kabbalahs compel
Their spirits to that peace in H2O?
Strange, that water’s a blend of fire
when it’s flame that she hates and
Hisses, her molecules
angled like arrowheads tooled for a crossbow,
Blunt, just 104 degrees.
Agincourts in the faucet?
Why not? Hi-tech myths can ape
Many an apeman superstition.
Yet if not twined lovingly—these
Wineglass here could turn grenade. As
water reminds us, the world’s
A maelstrom of lava beneath her easy circumstance.
All matter’s smouldering at the core. Old-
Time Jehovahs—brimstone and the flood on tap—
Might better have let hydrogen relax
Its double bond to oxygen—
which would have shown the folk, given folk to show
Just who was Who, as most
things evanesced to zero space
—Most, including people.
Water’s our friend. Faucet-flow
Around finger endears, the way kittens do.
It blandishes bourbon
As it mellows (fluid and cube)
fire to amber, with
Glass melodies. Diamond, ice
(To the eye); ice though is good-humored, and
Come spring, will restore playhouse and beach to us,
melt to mellifluous tilth.
Besides, diamond’s a liar—poof
and it’s soot when the heat’s on.
Calling their glaciers back,
Ice Ages warmed to us, left the lea greener.
What would Diamond Ages do?
Shrink-wrap countries in rock-glass,
Leave the planet strangled, sky’s
Lavaliere, a Tiffany bijou
glinting frigid fire. And would you,
Diamond-Age' young girls,
Cherish dewdrops, think them jewels to
pretty your hair with—eyes brave
Through the damp of your lash before the livid avalanche?
Let’s be glad—most of us anyway—we’re
More dew-sort than diamond-kind. And there’s the myth:
What suckled Aphrodite, sea or stone?
Festooned Sicily shore?—where foam,
all glissando and swell, wreathes
Buoyant the swimmer. Dream:
eastward in Eden once sparkled a garden
More delicious even than
Sappho’s: apples blew perfume
Through liana languors; brooks
Wove their watery spell; mid-grove a
Presence walked in cool of the day.
No one dewier
Than that human pair, pellucid
two, in the sun-flickered shade
By the pools, on a ferny tussock banked like pouffes. No one
Dewier? You were! that rickety pier
Once! your shoulders bubbling moonlight as you swam
And then—spirit of water, lithe—gleamed bare
As moon on the pier, hair swirled back,
laughing at me, “Last one in . . . !” Prismatic girl
(Like those glorified trans-lunar dancers that Dante saw)
Sprinkling me with chill lake’s
mischievous fire. Now the tears
Are like fire to think . . . think . . . what I've thought and thought.
But safer to think small;
Summer thunder, hail on the lawn;
We blessed it as “heaven-sent!”
Mostly water is.
Pray that it keep us. Our blue globe in space.
Our grand loves. Our least ones—like this spindly rose
rambling on Pindar’s lattice.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 1, on page 48
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