Poem of the Week | September 11, 2008

Our latest poem of the week is “The Insistence of Water” by the poet George Looney, the winner of our Larry Levis prize for poetry in 2002 (our current prize is called the Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize).   This poem appeared in Vol. 26:1, 2003. George Looney has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for his poetry, as well as two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships and, most recently, a $10,000 fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for 2006. Looney is the author of Animals Housed in the Pleasure of the Flesh(winner of the 1995 Bluestem award),Attendant Ghosts (Cleveland State UP, 2000), and most recently, a chapbook ofGreatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2001).  His work has been published in journals as The Kenyon ReviewNew England ReviewThe Southern Review,ShenandoahThe Gettysburg Review, among others. Looney’s most recent collection of poems, The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels, which won the 10th annual White Pine Press and was published by White Pine Press in 2005.  He has also published a novella, Hymn of Ash, which won the Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award and was published by Elixir Press in  2008.  Another collection of poetry, Open Between Us, will be published by WordTech Communications early in 2010 on their Turning Point imprint. Looney currently directs the Creative Writing Program at Penn State Eerie.

The Insistence of Water

The slightest rasp of any moon on water
darkens what’s left to call sky, the voice of
a woman the gasp of one wave collapsing
into the next, water a conversation
with itself, and nothing but the sky to
expect an answer from. A late spring evening,
something as mundane as music
coming from an open window, “Spanish Steps,”
Van Morrison, the piano an echo of
the moon playing water, the saxophone
a kind of sorrow that leaves the heart
vulnerable to the vicissitudes of joy.

In deference to weather, one sentence calls out
to another, any music mentioned
just a distraction from the rhythms words
fulfill under the harsh needle of time,
wearing, as it does, grooves in the heart
where any music could alter the course
of a moon. Clouds, the outline of a front
pushing in from off the lake to change
what I’d call weather, could almost convince me
any voice that rasps with the authenticity
of the blues at the beginning of
the last century must hold within it truth.

The truth about what is a necessary
addendum, since truth is always
connected to what it claims to be of, music,
in one incarnation, the playing out,
over time, of opposing arguments, time
itself the true subject about which the moon
wants to convince the water, each swell
a manifestation, in singularity, of
a line of reasoning, crescendo nothing
without diminuendo, both required for
the illusion of motion or the miming
of a voice refusing to be diminished.

The way the sky, abandoned by the moon,
collapses and murmurs a dark it means
to explain everything, but the dark
lets us all down, even the sky, refusing
to be set in any groove, to follow
anything we’d call a pattern. History
finds it difficult to leave ruts in the lake,
all those waves the best damn eraser
anyone could come up with, constant motion
maybe just an idea, but the water
comes close enough to fool us, close enough
we can’t imagine waves without the moon.

Step into cool water off the coast of Spain
and shiver in whatever language is
best able to echo the collusion of
water and flesh. The moon will believe
the lie concocted by your body’s calm
surrounded by gypsy water, this urge
in the form of what must seem mere ripples
from the distance of the moon, the slightest
undulations, no more than the passing of
music through a body. The moon doesn’t know
any language but time, its only voice
a rasp Lorca heard in his bones and named duende.

But a word is only dark in part, and can’t
contain even one nth of this late spring
evening. All the light, all that empty space,
in any word, even duende, carves
so many inlets, so many coves and bays
(where beaches burn the feet of women and men
who have taken time off, they say, from
the mundane sorrows of their lives and tossed it
carelessly behind them where it shivers,
abandoned, and murmurs curses at the backs
of the lovers who stand in the water
to cool their feet), any dark is compromised.

And time, outside of language, isn’t a thing
to be worn, any more than any word could
do without the lovers who lie down and burn,
naked, on the beaches made private by
the undulations of islands that are nothing
more than letters. Cliffs rise, dark, over water
that rasps a kind of longing over and over
against the land, like a tongue flicking
over flesh and birthing a language of
shivers and moans and exaltations the moon
likes to pretend is meant for it. Tonight,
any word, whispered right, could hold the moon.

Tonight, every word is a moon, and burns
with the light that, tomorrow, will burn the flesh
of lovers on every beach in every cove
and bay carved by the insistence of water
or the desire for meaning. Someone’s brought
a radio, and spare batteries, and music
carves its own niche in the damp, moon-thick
air the lovers breathe. It’s “Moondance,”
Van Morrison again, and even Lorca
can’t help but want to stand up and strip down
to naked flesh and start to dance, the moon
his partner, in passion, on this bone-white beach.