Nebraska Center for Writers

by Kathleene West

A pebble ripples the lake,
disturbs its determined smoothness.
Long after the small stone sinks
into the anonymous mud,
the lake shudders, convulsing upon itself.
Which is more beautiful?
The placid surface or the water that wavers,
transforming the image of a woman who leans
over the edge to watch the water stretch
then settle her features.

Still as the air she holds.
If a breeze whispers its way across the water,
it busies itself away from her,
leaving the fall of hair,
the drape of her clothing
in one smooth meld.
She remembers yearning for wind,
wind to scrape dry her cheeks
when the man with the fine guitar
plucked at her heart.

But as her tears dried
so did her heart.
The wind eroded her
like a poorly-tilled field
and she learned to wish for rain
and speak of crops, their yield separating
the good years from the bad.
She fears for the winter wheat, tempted
by unseasonable sun to appear too soon.
No human act can save it.

Still, she allows herself this indulgence,
makes pilgrimage to the lake,
man-made, shallow,
but water enough to imagine
another geography, another kind of strife.
She splashes her face and waits
for wind and water to meet at her lips.
She has grafted herself to this land
where the cycle turns on the harvest,
not death.

A last look at the water lifts her spirit,
reassures her that she shares
the ache of return with earth and weather.
Her breath quickens
and she sings, her voice a counterpoint
to the regularity of rise and fall,
the lone melodic line of plainsong,
a chant to celebrate the continuous ritual
that enters her words
that survives without her
that she sings.

Reprinted with permission
from Water Witching
Copyright © 1984
by Kathleene West
Copper canyon

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