Water Words

An image of a river at night. The water is not calm, but disturbed in many small ripples as it rushes past.

Learning the speech of the river

means listening at night

so sunlight flaking on ripples

doesn’t distract from the sifting

of pebbles and silt, or the sigh

of weeds dancing in shallows.

I learned my first words fishing

in the Scantic, brown chords lacing

the fluster of panfish and crawdads.

Later sailing the Connecticut

I heard the whole gravel bottom roar.

An exclamatory island loomed.

Translating insidious tones

into language takes great effort.

Most of my lazy life passed before

I settled on this grassy bank

and put down a taproot to anchor

my carcass in case of flood.

But this is a season of drought,

and the river mumbling to itself

has foregone all its pageantry

and offers a simplified profile.

It hasn’t muted, though, its voice

as distinct as a brass carillon.

I learn the river-words for angst

and fever and hungry for fish.

I also hear a gasp, a whirlpool

that could almost be my name.

No festivals this year, the crimes

against humanity too grave,

too embellished in the sky.

Nothing in nature knows me,

so the river couldn’t possibly

enunciate my seven syllables

unless they mean the same thing

as embrace the flow and drown.


William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught at Emerson College, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent book is Stirring the Soup.  williamdoreski.blogspot.com