Swirling round stones regardless the roaring,
edged sideways, your knees—can you bend them?
Can you hold the angle without becoming cramped?
Can you continually step down, fingers pushing back
hair in strands, a cascading, hurtling continuity
over basalt rock slopes? Imagine the fall, wheels in your heels,
birds, lilacs, laughter, your wings, your talons, your arms spread
to embrace the landscape’s plowed fields,
cars swooshing past on the Interstate. Fall over stones
slip down to a trickle in a pool my body fills with
yours drop-by-drop icy cold at first then lukewarm
then aflame, ferns on the lower story, lilacs in the canopy
ringing rind and leaves. Such dampness seeps
from the edge of your boots, unless you remove them.
When I stand here I feel my limbs expand
like poses in yoga. The thunderous current
lifts my arms and knees.
I rise like a flock of starlings
scattering rhapsodies—the rigor, the truss,
the rib cage bursting through.
I wrote “Waterfall” at the Vermont Studio Center. It helps to be in a beautiful place around writers, artists and musicians. One of the painters, who was in residence at the same time as me, was working on these pieces of people with metal parts in their bodies. One image she made was of a woman with metal wheels in her feet, hence the line, “wheels in her heels.” Her work struck me and was related in many ways to themes that already preoccupied me, themes having to do with the transience of the body. So, when I stood on the footbridge outside my studio and looked down at the waterfall beneath it, I was imagining it as two people locked in an embrace, which is why the poem found itself written into couplets. I write a lot of my poems line by line in my head and I wrote much of this one in the moment. There was something about the stones that the water flowed over before it poured into the river, that looked sexualized. As a child, I can remember looking at inanimate objects, like a cement paver, for example, and recognizing something familiar in it. It was an odd feeling. There’s probably a name for it. Maxim Gorky has a story called “Blue Sky” about a boy lying on the grass and seeing human faces in clouds. It’s a similar impulse. Yet, recognizing familiar features in pavers and clouds also acts the opposite way. Your body seems less and less distinct and you can start seeing how humans evolved from nature and how connected everything is. I think this earlier poem ties into other poems in the book which seek to expand genre (the sculptor Eva Hesse, who many of these poems are concerned with, sought to move beyond the picture frame and make work that took up space on the floor, ceiling and walls) or the body to join history. In “Waterfall,” the speaker is longing to step beyond herself and though she mentions yoga, the experience she emulates isn’t nirvana, its ecstasy—”thunderous,” noisy. I’m basically a very simple person and little things can make me very happy, but in my writing I’m always on guard, fighting against my own complacency.