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William L. Ramsey

Digressions on Water

1. Workers have arrived to protect my house
                against damage that could potentially
                develop from excessive groundwater.

2. Water is elemental in the old
                sense, not like helium or barium,
                but elemental like fire, wind, what
                not. That is high-grade psychological
                uranium. You know as well as I.
                Powerful because it grew up with us,
                losing its tail along with us. Because
                it is conceptual rather than mere
                primordial matter. It left traces
                of its DNA in our dreams: sea, flood,
                wave, reflected terror, drowning panic,
                striving to come up for breath within it,
                waking when we can’t. All this even though
                we no longer interbreed. At least not
                in ways that result in fertile offspring.
                Offspring capable of producing
                virile offspring in turn, not water mules.

3. Few people wake up screaming about rain,
                the sound of it streaming down the roof tiles
                into gutters. No-one wakes up screaming
                about water sluicing into downspouts,
                about water trickling down windowpanes.
                It is more apt to be the swelling mass
                of water that haunts us, the swelling mass
                of water rising up from under us,
                entering all rooms, repeating old vows.

4. In the crawl-space under my house, workers
                are installing a “vapor barrier.”
                There is a loud thump on the floor under
                my chair, and a worker quickly shouts “Fuck!”
                It protects me from intrusive moisture,
                protects the understructure of the house.
                But I am going upstairs just to be safe.

5. When my parents’ basement flooded, I was
                the one shouting, thumping under the floor.

Ironing boards, stuffed animals, tax returns,
                receipts, stockings, an old brown recliner
                a mouse had nested in, engineering
                books, the art-deco metal waste-paper
                basket that sat by my parents’ bed through
                the nineteen-sixties, seventies, eighties,
                and nineties, and which may have presided
                over my own conception, certainly
                my sister’s, toys, particle board, yearbooks,
                tools, products new in package, the package
                water-logged and moldy, Archie comics.

My eighty year old mother stood by her
                bedroom window in a nightgown, not right
                in front of the window, off to one side.
                She peered around the edge of the framing
                like a gunfighter in the Wild West, pinned
                down in a hotel or saloon, watching
                me toss it all on a vast dripping heap,
                then she would duck back and cover her eyes.

An old aquarium, get this, transformed
                into a lone oasis of dryness:
                the medieval arch the fish once swam through,
                plastic seaweed, all bone dry. Moses style.

But the ruined thing that really got me
                was a little Christmas chime: a fragile,
                cheap, overly complex, ridiculous
                contraption given to my mom by her
                older sister Anne back in, roughly, nineteen-
                seventy-seven. And I, dutiful
                son and capable sophomore in High School,
                was made responsible for assembling

                this hideous thing with dozens of brass
                angels blowing little brass trumpets from
                which dangled little brass chains with brass rods
                attached. I hooked all this to a brass disk
                that I balanced on a pin that I perched
                on a candle-stick holder with a bell
                soldered to each side. The whole family
                gathered around to witness the holy
                miracle of this thing balanced and spinning,
                driven by the heat of the lit candle,
                to hear the holy miracle of each
                brass angel dinging the bell with the rod
                that dangled from the chain from its trumpet.

I shoveled all of these pieces on the heap.
                I will not write down what species of thing
                issues from the matrimonial bliss
                of brass angels and water, what dangles,
                what sounds it produces, what hope it has
                to balance with like abominations.



William L. Ramsey’s first book of poetry, Dilemmas, is available from Clemson University Press. His poems have appeared over the last 30 years in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The South Carolina Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry.

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