Back to Issue Forty

Four Waters



In winter, water comes cold
from the hot tap until I count



The cows at Siaconset had a pox
and bearded Ben had to rub their teats with paste.

Thirteen, I drank spring water

from a grassy pool the Pilgrims knew
and the woods were full of ferns and fog.

Dorothy and Tom divorcing in the dry west
sent me to the wet east, the mist, the island,

to live with actors, summer stock, a mercy.
Ben played Henry in The Lion In Winter,

told me my Dad remarried fast because
he was not the kind to whore around,

showed me how to cook a meal
without a recipe: some tomato,

some fennel, improvising like Coltrane.
Barbara with the long red braid

picked berries on the moor,
made me a most tender cake.

I stole somebody’s skiff, Pyewacket
or some such, abandoned it to the reeds

when I couldn’t row it back.
Loved Birdy, a golden retriever,

loved my role, Robbart, speaking
Welsh in The Corn Is Green,

loved a younger boy in the barn
who wasn’t that into it.

The summer gone, freak snow
over the ocean, a little plane

carried me away.


A muscly guy I met on the Super Chief
Chicago to Albuquerque asked if he could
sail his boat up the Santa Fe River
to visit me, and did I want to count his tattoos?
My answers were no, because in autumn
the river runs dry (water drawn off
into the acequias for the corn), and yes—
turned out there were
thirteen, all homemade.
It may have been a dry bed then,
but now in my memory the water’s fat
and noisy. The foam has a cold tang
and overshoots the mossy banks.


Young players and singers, not even graduated from Oberlin, Juilliard, Curtis, Peabody, we were hired to wait tables and play Mozart. After the guests went to bed we swam in the lake, but was it thirteen fathoms, the summer water, or thirty or three hundred, when a line of storms came across? That summer a woman I knew wanted to visit and talk with me about God. Guests were forbidden, but I said come anyway. We hid her in the staff cabin, fed her cold lobster stolen from the walk-in. Somehow every afternoon she strolled down to the beach and spread her blanket.
One night the soprano who played Fiordiligi, talking to somebody else, poured boiling water onto my hand at the sink. Three of us piled into a station wagon to take me to the rural ER, an hour away. It was August 6, 1978, which I know because Pope Paul VI died that day. We drove through the closed-up woods, in and out of the fog—until suddenly a sheet of flame fell onto the road in front of the car. The driver, a guy I loved on the maintenance crew, jammed the brakes and we looked at the road and each other. The flame was gone, but we all agreed we saw it. Probably only I thought of the pope.
We drove on until we arrived at the two-room clinic, where a handsome doctor began to work on my hand—until an alarm rang, a woman in an ambulance, pills, overdose, etc. They put me in the hall with my hand in a bucket of ice and Ruth the French Horn player held my other hand. After a while I heard the woman ask for a cigarette. They bandaged my fist like a football, sent me back with a week of Demerol.

The next night we sang Soave sia il vento in a glass pavilion on the lake,

my burn aching. We never learned

anything more about where the fire fell from,
or how deep it had hidden, or when

it might rise to the surface again.










Patrick Donnelly is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Little-Known Operas (Four Way Books, 2019). With his spouse Stephen D. Miller, he translates classical Japanese poetry and drama. He is director of the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place, Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, NH, now a center for poetry and the arts. More at