Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
If there is magic on this planet,
it is contained in water.
– Loren Eiseley
World Water Day has been held on March 22 annually since 1993, to celebrate water, and to raise awareness of the global clean water crisis: 2.2 billion people live without access to safe water.
Water. After air, the element most essential to our lives. Oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface but, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner of the long grey beard and glittering eye tells us, it’s
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
making fresh drinkable water a far more precious element than gold or diamonds.
Water is never truly still. It ripples, froths, drifts, tumbles, waves, crashes, spatters, trickles, seeps, floods, gushes, flows and overflows. It changes from liquid to vapor to ice, to every state in between, and back again.
Water is the fundamental element we are most akin to: humans are 60% water. Something to mull over as you sip your next glass of water.
I was born in desert country which taught me to never take water for granted. Wendell Berry’s poem tells us how drought shapes everything, even who a child will become.
by Wendell Berry
I was born in a drouth year. That summer
my mother waited in the house, enclosed
in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,
for the men to come back in the evenings,
bringing water from a distant spring.
veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded the return
of that year, sure that it still is
somewhere, like a dead enemys soul.
Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
I love the water of wells and springs
and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise
of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.
My sweetness is to wake in the night
after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.
“Water” by Wendell Berry, from The Ecopoetry Anthology, Trinity University Press, 2013
Wendell Berry (1934 – ) American essayist, novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer. He was born in Henry County, Kentucky. Both his parents came from families that had farmed the area for at least five generations. In 1958, he won a fellowship to Stanford University’s creative writing program. Berry published his first novel, Nathan Coulter, in 1960. He has gone on to write more novels, essay collections, and several books of poetry. Berry has long been an opponent of war, nuclear power, and the increasing human plundering of the planet’s natural resources. He has been honored with dozens of awards, including the National Humanities Medal in 2010, and the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize.
May Swenson is enthralled by water’s reflective qualities, which let us see the world anew. A flash of thought, then gone in a ripple.
by May Swenson
In the pond in the park
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and
wriggle gently. Chimneys
are bent legs bouncing
on clouds below. A flag
wags like a fishhook
down there in the sky.
The arched stone bridge
is an eye, with underlid
in the water. In its lens
dip crinkled heads with hats
that don’t fall off. Dogs go by,
barking on their backs.
A baby, taken to feed the
ducks, dangles upside-down,
a pink balloon for a buoy.
Treetops deploy a haze of
cherry bloom for roots,
where birds coast belly-up
in the glass bowl of a hill;
from its bottom a bunch
of peanut-munching children
is suspended by their
A swan, with twin necks
forming the figure 3,
steers between two dimpled
towers doubled. Fondly
hissing, she kisses herself,
and all the scene is troubled:
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge
folds like a fan.
“Water Picture” from Poems Old and New, © 1994 by the Literary Estate of May Swenson, Houghton Mifflin
May Swenson (1913-1989) was born in Logan Utah, American poet, translator, and playwright; considered one of the most original poets of the 20th century. Her many collections of poetry include: A Cage of Spines; To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems; Half Sun Half Sleep; Iconographs; and In Other Words.
Angelo Giambra’s poem reminds us that we are not the only organisms on our planet depending on its water for our lives. (One hopes that his brother outgrew playing with fire and small creatures.)
The Water Carriers
by Angelo Giambra
On hot days we would see them
leaving the hive in swarms. June and I
would watch them weave their way
through the sugarberry trees toward the pond
where they would stop to take a drink,
then buzz their way back, plump and full of water,
to drop it on the backs of the fanning bees.
If you listened you could hear them, their tiny wings
beating in unison as they cooled down the hive.
My brother caught one once, its bulbous body
bursting with water, beating itself against
the smooth glass wall of the canning jar.
He lit a match, dropped it in, but nothing
happened. The match went out and the bee
swam through the mix of sulfur and smoke
until my brother let it out. It flew straight
back to the hive. Later, we skinny-dipped
in the pond, the three of us, the August sun
melting the world around us as if it were
wax. In the cool of the evening, we walked
home, pond water still dripping from our skin,
glistening and twinkling like starlight.
“The Water Carriers” © 2009 by Angelo Giambra, South Dakota Review, Winter 2009
Angelo Giambra, American poet whose work has been featured in Atlanta Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and Freefall Magazine. He is the author of Oranges and Eggs, published in 2010. Giambra is a technical engineer, and lives in Florida.
Too often, we in the U.S. take easy access to clean water for granted, and abuse the privilege. Here, Kim Dower turns her sharp satiric eye on water as an expensive, brightly-packaged ‘convenience.’
by Kim Dower
I go to the corner liquor store
for a bottle of water, middle
of a hectic day, must get out
of the office, stop making decisions,
quit obsessing does my blue skirt clash
with my hot pink flats; should I get
my mother a caregiver or just put her
in a home, and I pull open the glass
refrigerator door, am confronted
by brands—Arrowhead, Glitter Geyser,
Deer Park, spring, summer, winter water,
and clearly the bosses of bottled water:
Real Water and Smart Water—how different
will they taste? If I drink Smart Water
will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?
If I choose Real Water will I no longer
deny the truth, but will I attract confused,
needy people who’ll take advantage
of my realness by dumping their problems
on me, and will I be too stupid to help them
sort through their murky dilemmas?
I take no chances, buy them both,
sparkling smart, purified real, drain both bottles,
look around to see is anyone watching?
I’m now brilliantly hydrated.
Both real and smart my insides bubble
with compassion and intelligence
as I walk the streets with a new swagger,
knowing the world is mine.
“Bottled Water” © 2012 by Kim Dower. Appeared in Barrow Street, Winter 2012/12
Kim Dower, American poet, author of Air Kissing on Mars (2010), Slice of Moon (2013), and Last Train to the Missing Planet (2016). She was born and raised in New York City, but lives in Southern California. Dower is a previous city poet laureate of West Hollywood (2016-2018), and teaches at Antioch University.
Water is not always benign. Torrential rain, flash flooding, or storms at sea are all deadly, as Cleopatra Matis reminds us.
The Sea Chews Things Up
by Cleopatra Mathis
When I woke, the waves had gone black,
turning over the macerated
curd of the ocean bottom, heaving its sludge
onto the beach. Some storm far out, I thought,
had ravaged the sea, stirred up its bed,
sent the whole mess flying to shore.
At my feet I found a grave of starfish,
broken and gnarled among the fleshy
snipes and heads. Every shade of death
covered the sand. It looked hopeless
in the pale day but for the birds,
a congress of gulls, terns, and the rarest plovers,
calm for once, satiated, a measure of
the one law: this sea will claim it all—
feed them, catch them, grind their complicated bones.
“The Sea Chews Things Up” from White Sea, © 2005 by Cleopatra Mathis, Sarbande Books
Cleopatra Mathis (1947 – ) American poet of Greek heritage who is from Louisiana, author of several poetry collections, including Aerial View of Louisiana (1979), What to Tip the Boatman? (2001), which won the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poems, White Sea (2005) and After the Body: New & Selected Poems (2020). She is a Professor of English, Emerita, at Dartmouth College, and director of the school’s creative writing program.
William Shakespeare was born near a river, and wrote his great works in a city which has long helmed a sea-going island nation. Not surprising that he uses water imagery often and well, as he does here, in Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
– from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English playwright, poet, and actor, the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s great dramatist.
And for today’s finale, George Frideric Handel’s Water Music: