“Someone is the Water” appears in Issue 37.
It was sometime early last fall, maybe mid-to-late September, and I was at my desk not paying close enough attention to the Zoom session winding down on my laptop, looking out the window like the best of clichés. Out there, sitting on a short lamppost leaning over a neighbor’s unused and loose cinder blocks, I noticed a bird with orange all across its chest with a black head. I guessed it might be an oriole because I know the Baltimore Orioles exist and their colorway exists (orange and black) and I think I was proven right after I looked it up. But I know so little about birds, which is to say, I don’t pay close enough attention to them, that I feel uncertain even now saying for sure what really sat there, its head twitching.
I think this poem, “Someone is the Water,” arose in part from a desire to get closer to what I’m looking at. I wanted to include this specific sort of bird in a poem to exercise my skills in observation. To practice, in other words, detailing what it is I really notice about what’s in front of me. I worry a lot about getting my observations wrong. Or, better to say, I doubt the fullness of my observations often, that I won’t make legible the emotional stakes of a piece chiefly through description. But that doubt doesn’t negate the fact that I feel most in my bag when deep in detail. I can tell, in my rereading of the poem for this essay, how the speaker is relying on different senses for his observations: sight, sure, but also sound and touch. That definitely comes out of wanting to be present, to demonstrate various facets of the speaker’s attention and, by extension, his body. Attention is an extension of the body, in other words.
The last thing I want to say about this poem is that I used to consider expositional clarity to be among the least beautiful aspects of any given piece. To think of language in service of locating the reader inside a poem as garnish laid overtop the meat, which I thought of as the revelatory aspects of a poem. (Sorry for the food similes—it’s lunchtime here!) But, increasingly, I find most pleasurable the parts of writing that come in the description of simply saying, hopefully in an artful way, where and what’s going on. A lot of poets have said versions of this (immediately coming to mind: Lucille Clifton, Gerald Stern, Jean Valentine, Brian Blanchfield, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, etc.) and I think it’s true: a poem begins with what you know until you reach what you don’t. To that end, when autobiography begins to crop up in this piece, I hope it does so not out of my symbolizing this smallish body of water and those birds (I don’t want them to stand in for something), but out of sustained attention to a thing that matters to me. If the poem fails at points to be clear, I hope those moments come out of a faithfulness to wonder and not knowing what’s on the other side of my feelings.