Poem of the Week | December 03, 2018

This week we are delighted to present “Drowning,” a new poem by Charles Green.

Charles Green’s writing has appeared in The Southeast Review, The New England Review, and Salt Hill, among other venues. Originally from Arkansas, he teaches writing at Cornell University.



See me sink: a branch pulled under. How caught
I must look. The depth’s invisible. I’m dead weight,

aged five. I walk the corrugated plank
into the lake, the water an opaque

brown, until the metal ends. In memory
the water whorls, my lungs become a sudden sea.

Even now, when I clench my arms
to my sides, my father’s hands alarm

the skin of my armpits. He drags
me back to life, makes me unglug

the dirty lake I breathed. Today, when a sip
goes down the wrong pipe,

and I am again just a system of bad
plumbing, a beating, breathing dud

despite my deaths. Forget the daily dawns,
I measure out last breaths, shattered moons,

each sequeled apocalypse, even the dream
where I’m pulled apart along a busted seam.

You can’t live in the past, but still
you can die there. In the future, you will.


Author’s Note

Although the memory behind “Drowning” is distant, it’s still intense for me to recall. I don’t often write autobiographical scenes in my poems, but this one arose while I was writing in response to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur.” In the last line of that poem, the vowel sounds rise in pitch to great effect. I sought instead to move downward in pitch, and the opening of “Drowning” arose. The rhyming couplets guided me throughout the composition process. The final stanza came to me, inconveniently, while I was driving, and I typed a version of it on my phone while idling at a stoplight. Throughout the process, form helped me open and re-experience that difficult memory.