The Forgetting Water

by Brenda Levy-Tate
PenShells
Honorable Mention, January 2011
Judged by Kwame Dawes


Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep – Twelfth Night

A woman must have created such a river –
one chance at erasing all her memories,
even the better ones. Heaven, it appears,
is set apart for patriarchs and handsome
boys who please God more willingly.

I shake on the bridge’s edge, listen down
at the current as it sucks, mutters, sucks,
mutters. Sullen infant – barely contained
by its dam – froth rising through a mouth
prepared at any moment to break open.

Green steel rocks me, lulls me, salts
nuggets of rust in my eye-corners. I catch
myself just in time. But this is my temptation:
to balance here like Athena’s bright owl
on a twisted limb. I scan the night for blood.

Overstep, swoop into this field of foam –
my own predator, my own lost prize.


There is a wonderful evocation of sound and movement in the line: “at the current as it sucks, mutters, sucks,/ mutters” that describes the body of water flowing under the bridge. At the surface, the poem seems to be flirting with the idea of suicide, but the epigraph reminds us that the inclination towards self-destruction is often prompted by a resignation to the fact that one no longer wants to contend with the tyranny of memory, the haunting of those things we would rather forget. So the poem. In this sense, the poem takes some interesting risks. Its problems are not insignificant, though—the reliance on the Greek mythology for a certain cleverness is cliché and unnecessary—no real effort is made to engage that allusion. Also, opportunities are lost because of the distraction of the “owl” image which turns the core metaphor of the poem towards that of an owl in hunting. An unfortunate shift, but one that does not completely obscure the deft craft at work here. --Kwame Dawes

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