Magazine article World Literature Today

Death by Water Suite

Magazine article World Literature Today

Death by Water Suite

Article excerpt

(Heavy Water #74: going down)


the version of my father's brother's drowning i was raised on

and prefer

is the one in which his friends and cousins -

having lost their week's pay to him at cards

having drunk not quite enough to down the piddling affront -

held him there below till it was done.

they must have stood the three of them

and lefthim there to drifta while

the soberness of their act

falling swiftas the temple virgins' shared veil

thin chilly cover against the frank and palpitating country night.

i like to think they did not brook the possibility of talk

though like as not they did.

like as not the younger cousin tried and failed.

and likely it was he who waded out into the water

glass-black and stroking, kissing at his hips

and tried to cry but couldn't

until the others rushed him

pulled him to the grassy water's edge.

must have been quite handsome that one.

why shouldn't he have been that smooth opaque we used to

call just-pretty-black?

in my own dreams of drowning it is always so:

i find him handsome

almost too dear to look on in the starry swampy night

easy in his movement the way some men just are -

easy in his laughter, his gait, his clothes -

but no one's ever said

though surely someone knows.

how long they stood that way is anybody's guess

before going on -

neither home nor away

but to her -

to tell the thing they'd done

to find the gumption to say they'd drowned her son

witless honesty to match the stupid intimate human act

down the path? one begins

over near where we go out wading sometime in the evening?

we killed him out there, auntie he interrupts, the younger one,

impatient to begin the clean clear suffering that will hound them

now for all their too-short lives

we killed him.

drowned in the night

drifted four more

coming up at last

half-eaten puffed up water-something

eyes gone

lips gone

perfect teeth exposed in nothing like a grin

no longer man or son or friend -

some freakish

cousin (once-twice-removed)

to the thing we all swam out from to the light.

and there below the less than potent undertow

floating uncle-boy himself

face some transfigured riddled mask

realizing - no doubt to soon - this is no young fellows' teasing gag -

only to surface in the dullish mid-late-morning of ordinary day:

icy teeth

eyeholes nests for quivering things

logged hands that carry

harmless enough brownish mosses

a something adrift

adriftagog and gaping about for kin


these dreams run all the same:

you go into the water wearing pearls of every color

- and nothing more -

strands of ochre black and rose, steel grey and bone. …

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