The Sounds Water Makes by Martin Willitts Jr.

The Sounds Water Makes

Grandmother hated the rusty click-clack whoosh
metallic sound of the kitchen hand pump,
preferring I’d go out: Fetch a wooden bucket
of water from the well.

I’d creak-creak the pulley rope
until I’d feel the bucket slap-bottom-touch the water,
go slower, sensing it sink-fill, then
tug-yanked up into sunlight, a slushing bucket,
fetched it back.

Water tasted different when from a bucket
or the hand-pump or metal ladle at the well.
I never understood how the texture and flavor changed.

All I knew was grandma hated the fancy hand pump,
choosing the old Amish, sensible ways,
without gadgets and gizmos. She desired a world
waking up to hardness of life, as loose
as water. But the rest of the world was moving
in a blur she’d never understand, leaving her behind,
set in her ways, her bones too old and stubborn
for there to be any other way than plain-spoke,
careful with words, listening before speaking,

She wanted a time when water was water,
and sky clung fiercely to the land.
She declared, “You can keep your ways.”

I was too afraid to ask her what she was going to do
with all that water. I went softly back outside,
floors screech-scratching behind me

like a rope being lowered into the deepest well.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: The plain-spoken tone of the narrator mirrors the subject—a grandmother married to ways that feel simple, but are often anything but.

April 17 by Martin Willitts Jr.

April 17

It’s April. It’s snowing —again.
And, again, flowers close.

Snow is a cruel joke.

The world is speechless,
disappointed —
all this unfulfilled desire!
It is April, after all.
It’s not supposed to be like this —

white, cold shock,
purpose driven away —

this peculiar weather,
this unevenness,
this lack of rapture.

It’s our turn,
insist the purple crocuses.

Snow returns, anyway,
any way it can.

Death can happen at any time.

We can only sing our way forward.
The journey is long,
and the length varies
depending on each of us,

and when we get to the end,
tired, forlorn,
we will brighten up,
at last, and open
like spring flowers.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: Anyone who lives in the USA (particularly in the east) will understand that this poem is a vivid and immediate response to this year’s exceedingly frustrating and late spring season.

Waiting for You by Martin Willitts Jr.

Waiting for You
(American Sonnet)

Just like a good steady rain,
handwritten by the blue jay’s flight,
the edges of the world need you.
I am aware of the heartbreak
behind the rain’s curtain.
The river banks swell, the ground
is saturated, run-offs follow
a downward slope like arpeggios.

The clouds are squeezed tight.
Rain crunches on roofs, abundantly;
but like love or pain, it cannot last forever.
There is no sound inside the rain
that is not you. A heart is breakable,
but the door is unlatched, waiting for you.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: This poet’s exploration of the limits of the sonnet form continue in this poem. Emotional imagery is highlighted within the form’s fourteen short lines and octave/sestet relationship.

Sonnet: Songbirds by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Songbirds

Never had so many songbirds been so silent.
Not one was spreading noise, curving over the pines.
A congregation had gathered, and not one bird
erected a thin mist of music. Not one note
rustled its wings. It was eerie. Curse?
Silent worship? What caused this hush?
There were so many birds in the sky
like rainclouds, darkening, enigmatic, quiet —

a strangeness of birds, and their ambiguity
purposeful, their luxuriant colors, their frequency
of moment — why were they composed
this way? This wall of fragments and silence,
not even one wing beat? Are they insulting us?
Is there some bad news that they are encapsulating?

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s eerie questions seem strangely apt today, in the midst of Hurricane Harvey’s ongoing lashing of the Texan coast.

Sonnet: Uncertainty by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Uncertainty

Think of rain. Think of it bringing a message. Think
of the rain singing, and how its melody is getting closer.
Notice how the rain is smiling. It is thinking.
Think of the rain as a guest. Treat it kindly.
Think of rain catching in a deer’s antlers. Think of rain
being as large as forgiveness, but also as less
than a gram. Think of small, wounded words.
Think how rain can start with tiny baby-steps.

A person receiving a transfusion, lays near roses
someone delivered, and now the patient is too tired
to notice their bloom, fading. It’s a kind of courage
to watch a calendar change while minutes
become less abundant, more uncertain.
Rain concludes on the windows.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: Once again this poet’s sonnet series presents a lack of meter and rhyme that nevertheless supports the meaning of the title. Careful imagery and enjambment show that even free verse can be formalized into an emphatic emotional metaphor.

Nelly by Robert Ford

Nelly

We buried you on the hottest day for years.
No breeze. The cornstalks were silent,
the air seething in crowded spaces under
a sky wiped duck-egg blue at the edges.

Through the heavy substance of veteran oaks,
sycamores, gasping over the hedgerows,
you could see all the way down the lazy apron
of the river valley to our town, the thumb of

its church steeple gilt-framed by the haze.
It seemed apt. A decade later, it’s still how
I picture you – though I’m no more than an
unopened parcel of memories in your future

—a girl, each thin-ice step you take a question,
leaving behind farm, family, village, home.
A whole lifetime waiting for you down there,
waiting to gather you up into its embrace.

by Robert Ford

Editor’s Note: Grief often defies description, but poets keep trying. This poem’s intense imagery presents yet another facet of sorrow, embedded in present, past, and future.

Sonnet: Disquieting by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Disquieting

This present moment — is gone, gone
like sparrows into the disquieting sky. Gone
white as sycamore branches before memory
releases their leaves. Gone as flattering light.
Gone as bliss and recognition of bliss. Gone,
taken away, the way rivers take silt,
depositing elsewhere. Moments are dissonant
and gorgeous, then — gone.

The pristine rains never last. It cannot rain
metaphorically everywhere with consistency.
Gravity cannot hold wind, even if wind
kisses our faces, even if it sheds sycamore leaves,
even if light folded, even if sound was shaken,
even if we clutched every moment to our chests.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s lack of meter and rhyme contradict its title while also emphasizing the meaning of it. This poem is an uneasy testament to the power of words used to describe difficulty.