Poem of the Week | December 23, 2019

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Water Communion” by Chelsea DesAutels!

Chelsea B. DesAutels’s work appears or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Copper Nickel, The Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. Chelsea is the recipient of the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry, and her manuscript, Metastasis, was the finalist for the AWP Award Series Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. Chelsea received an MFA from the University of Houston, where she served as Poetry Editor of Gulf Coast. She also holds degrees from Wellesley College and the University of Minnesota Law School. Chelsea lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and daughter.



On the sanctuary wall where I’d expect Christ
hangs a wrought-iron bird—large, wings spread—
& I can’t find any reason not to believe
it’s a heron. Which is to say, yes, I’m still
assigning meaning to wings & yes, you can
make anything mean anything you need.
Take this church: I needed hope
& these tall carved doors opened to a bird.
Or last week: I missed the water communion
so I watched the sermon online.
The congregation brought water
from their summer travels or bathtub
or rain caught in a birdbath in the backyard.
One by one, members emptied water
into a clay pot. A man spoke about water
as mother & water as destroyer
& water as god. Then the video cut out.
But the service wasn’t over—the lesson
was unresolved. Like during cancer, how I’d fall
asleep before the end of guided meditation.

Come to think of it, I still don’t know
what happens after my ancestors meet
me in the woods & fill my lungs with light.


Author’s Note

While living in Houston, I began attending church for the first time. I was busy asking questions about the authenticity of the relief we find when we go seeking it, both in nature and in manufactured activities like smartphone meditation apps. I think I was worried that if we wanted relief so badly we dreamed it into being, it might not last. Now I’m not sure it matters. The poem references what gave rise to my search—a pregnancy-caused cancer diagnosis in the first year of motherhood.