Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WATER TABLE, by JAMES GALVIN



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WATER TABLE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: How shy the attraction / of simple rain to the east wind
Last Line: To write his name
Subject(s): Autumn; Brooks; Mines & Miners; Mountains; Nature; Seasons; September; Water; Fall; Streams; Creeks; Hills; Downs (Great Britain)


How shy the attraction
of simple rain to east wind
on the dry east side
of the Neversummer Mountains.
Each afternoon clouds sidle in
just so, but rain is seldom.
Here what the call the water table
is more like a shooting star.
Streams that surface in the spring
are veins of fool's gold.
The water we count on
is run-off from high snows
gone underground.
The rest, the rain,
is a tinker's damn.

*

My mother is favored
in being buried here, where she was born.
My father is from the East.
He tried to understand these hills
by building miles of roads and fences,
looking for water in unlikely places.
When we had enough fence
he kept building roads --
up canyons, through timber,
with axe and bar.
Sometimes he found old mining roads
unused in years.
Such innocence terrifies stones.

*

Midyear,
if you drive on the pasture,
the grass won't spring back anymore,
so come September we saw the tracks
of everywhere he'd been since then.
To the rain it would have looked like a child's first attempt
to write his name.

Once he found an infant's grave
near a failed claim.
The writing on the stone
was also like a child's hand,
written by someone
who didn't know anything
about writing in stone.
It didn't say a name, it said,
She never knew a stranger.

*

Before the snow one September,
a man who lived here years ago
came to pay a visit.
He wore a white shirt,
sleeves rolled to the elbows,
and trousers the color of autumn grass.
He wouldn't come inside
or lean across the fence
the way a neighbor will.
He didn't care to stay,
although he'd lived here thirty years
and made this place from nothing
with his hands.

He showed my father a hidden spring
with fool's gold in the water.
He showed me how to use a witching-wand.
He said he mined for thirty years
and never found a thing worth keeping,
said the time to sink a well
is a dry year, in the fall.
The next we heard he'd died
somewhere west of here.
Then I had this dream:

*

In the driest month of a dry year
my father took it in his mind
to dig out fallow springs
all across the mountains.
He had roads to all of them.
He thought someone might be thirsty.
I asked how people stayed alive
before he came here
from the East.
He guessed they must have died.

*

I could say I understand
what goes on underground:
why all old men are miners
and children turn to gold-flecked water;
I could explain the weather,
like when the wind comes out of the east
and meets the simple rain.
The wind is strong.

The rain has slender shoulders.
The rain can't say
what it really means
in the presence of children
or strangers.


Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org




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