Ephemera

My collection Water-Rites was begun in response to a drought and a death. Interesting that the book’s release appears during an unusually wet spring here in my valley. On my morning walk through the meadow today, I saw quite a few species of dragonflies, generally a sign of a damp period in my region. Two days ago, mantis cases hatched; now there are tiny praying mantises on the patio slates, in the lawn, and among the grassy flora where we seldom mow.

The bees are out; the cabbage moths and early butterflies busy themselves with knapweed, eupatoria, penstemon, golden alexanders, honeysuckle, milkweed. The fragrance settles above the dewy grasses.

Most people are aware of honeysuckle’s scent. Few people know how lovely the aroma of milkweed blossom is. You have to time it just right–there’s no perceptible scent when the buds are furled, and the blooms are open only briefly. Almost at once, the blossoms ripen into pale knobs that will produce the familiar pods full of seeds packed cone-like into the pointed cases, silks battened tightly until autumn dries the pods and they burst.

But in early or mid-June, when the butterflies begin to arrive, those blooms are pale purple clusters of fragrance on a stem.

milkweed bloom

~

Ephemera intrigues me. Human ephemera usually is just that: brief, transitory, “lasting a day” (the Latin name for daylily, hemerocallis, comes from the same root: ἐφήμερα). Our letters, our emails, our YouTube videos and Hallmark greeting cards and shopping receipts.

Biological ephemera, however, is part and parcel of the cycle of life.

And poetry? Perhaps it’s an effort on the part of human beings to contribute to the lasting sort of ephemera.

 

~

 

milkweed in autumn Ann E. Michael

 

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Water thoughts

This weekend brought some rain to our valley. Gratitude! The rain softened the soil and the air, bringing haze and drizzle and greening up the parched grasses. Nonetheless, a little searching of weather-history sites revealed that this March was the fourth-driest on record, with only .92 inches of precipitation; the average precipitation is 3.4 inches. The region is also 6″ below average for the first quarter of 2012. As a gardener, I take my “stewardship” of the earth and its resources seriously; and water is one of the most valuable resources that we take for granted here in the United States. I can conserve water at home through many means–and I have established fairly resilient plants in my ornamental gardens (if it survives drought and flood and the deer don’t eat it, I find a way to make it look pretty in the yard). There isn’t anything I can do to change the weather patterns, though.

Given my deep concerns about cyclical drought, long-term equitable distribution of water, potable water and clean waterways, I thought I would use this post to share the title poem of my upcoming collection, Water-Rites. The publishers at Brick Road Poetry Press will be bringing the book out this spring. If the year continues to be a dry one, then it’s strangely suitable for this particular collection: I wrote many of these poems during a serious drought cycle. Some of the poems deal with the loss of a close friend, too. For me, drought and grief are metaphorically closer than “floods of tears.” Loss felt more like the numb, dry absence of drought than like the gift of rain.

For some soothing photos of running natural waters, I recommend Don Schroder’s series taken at Rickett’s Glen. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the rain.

Water-Rites

I.

I take my shower
lean into water’s hot stream
too many minutes
lathered in steam, guilty skin,
greedy pores

knowing the well empties
and the earth’s in drought.
II.

Off Nova Scotia’s south coast,
small islands spring fresh water
surrounded by sea. We hauled
the pine-brown but potable
stuff from the well in buckets,
heated it on the woodstove,
dabbed at our bodies, and dried
in the sea wind. We drank it:
pine-water coffee—water
sprung from nowhere, gift of rocks,
glaciers, lost to eons.
III.

The Mideast erupts again.
Retribution. Religion. Water-rights.

Oil will get you water;
water will buy you oil.
Barrels and tanks,
tanks and barrels—

each has a meaning
for water and warfare.

I reach for soap.
IV.

On the Caribbean volcanic island,
rain’s the only source. Rock
carved into cisterns. Water
hauled in like gasoline, by truck.
V.

We do not need to be so clean.
The industry of soap cajoles us—
promoting glycerin, methyl paraben
and the lauryl sulfates—
exposes our filth and offers
deliverance from evil.
Lye and tallow. Better to wallow.
The cost is less. Think:
Were we not formed of clay?
VI.

Tap
like sap
provides
sustenance.

Water
up root and
down:
taproot.
Soil            unsoiled
needs rain

silt       sand       loess—
water-loss

water’s
lost,
VII.

runs down my body,
thirsty skin, down drain
into pipes, tanks, drainage field
where ryegrass covers meadow,
percolates through sand, loam; disperses—

if it should rain
I will run out, arms wide,
mea culpa, mea culpa,
so many parched human beings
desiccating earth and I—
I thought to wash
my trespasses away
in something other
than rain.

© 2012 Ann E. Michael