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20th Anniversary

Poetry in the Mainstream


Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream November 1999

Pregnant zero breeding annihilation. . . . futility stands clear on these horizons marked in the zeros of a thousand clouds pregnant above a harvested land, whose fruit was peace infected with the germs of war.

from Night Flight : New York THEORY OF FLIGHT (1935) Muriel Rukeyser

WATERWAYS: Poetry in the Mainstream
Volume 20 Number 10
Lyn Lifshin Matt Dennison James Penha Joan Payne Kincaid R. Yurman Arthur Winfield Knight Gertrude Morris Designed, Edited and Published by Richard Spiegel & Barbara Fisher Thomas Perry, Assistant 4-7 8-10 11 12-13 14 15-16 17-18

November, 1999
19 20 21-26 27-28 29-30 31-34 35-36


Waterways is published 11 times a year. Subscriptions -- $25 a year. Sample issues -$2.60 (includes postage). Submissions will be returned only if accompanied by a stamped, self addressed envelope. Waterways, 393 St. Pauls Avenue, Staten Island, New York 10304-2127 © 1999, Ten Penny Players Inc.

Joanne Seltzer John Grey M M Nichols Ida Fasel Will Inman Joy Hewitt Mann Albert Huffstickler

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thru a hole mice gnawed. After the Russians took Grozny she made a life for herself on the third floor of a building across the street. She lost most of her clothing but saved her best rugs which had been wrapped in plastic. She returned to work at a hospital where she was busy with trauma patients and victims of a polio outbreak. There was plenty of shooting but life amid the rubble began to seem tolerable. By spring, the central market was bustling and full of goods. But by October, peace talks unraveled and on Dec 4 a huge car bomb exploded killing several of her neighbors, Lyontyeva thought of leaving. She had two sisters and a son in Moscow. But nurses were desperately needed. More peace talks broke down. On Aug 5, guerrillas had launched a full

said Elvira Lyontyeva, gesturing at nothing in particular. Heaps of rubble, a few bricks like tombstones. Lyontyeva can walk up stairs, across miles of the city, she is alert,even smiles now and then. But in the last months, she lived under shell fire and aerial\bombs in a dank, unlit basement, running upstairs when the explosions eased a bit to grab blankets, some food. When the house collapsed she was able to get potatoes, reaching

based on Washington Post article Sept. 14, 1996

This Was My House - Lyn Lifshin

scale attack and she was stuck at the hospital, working round the clock. It was too dangerous to try to go

home. Weeks later, when she did, she found her apartment had caught fire and burned. The fire had consumed everything edible – even mice and rats didn’t waste their time. Everything she had saved was gone she said brushing the ashes from a scorched antique iron her mother had given her. “It was everything I needed to live, pots and pans and everything. Now it’s gone. She found the body of her neighbor down the hall. At the military headquarters they asked the number of the building – but she had no idea how they’d find the address, the doors are burned, everything is rubble. Now each night she must look for a place to sleep. Money to leave was kept in bills folded in an embroidered handkerchief tucked away amid her clean underwear in a cardboard box – 600$ in rubles. Now she has 76 cents. She carries the wallet in a plastic shopping bag with a pair of

shoes, her identity card, a sheet, two spoons, a nightgown, a plastic tube of sugar, a broken pair of eye glasses, her sister’s address in Moscow, old gas bill receipts. “I’m going to do my best to leave but I don’t really know at this point. I’m 60 and I’ve had heart problems and if I could go somewhere I would.” These days mostly looters pick thru the remains of the apartment building. The former residents are dead or gone. The other day Lyontyeva ran across a couple of neighbors who padded down the street on a carpet of bullet cas5

ings, broken glass and torn pieces of camouflage clothing. The trees in front of the building were broken from battle. Even the discarded cans of Pepsi on the ground had been pierced by shrapnel. “Look,” a neighbor says, “my refrigerator was stolen. It was here yesterday and today it is gone.” Nothing as substantial was left in Lyontyeva's apartment. A copper bracelet lay in the ashes, scorched black. Her home canned jars of food were ruined. So were her rugs and her good German porcelain service, in shards on the floor. “This table used to be used for a color tv. That was our main entertainment. This was my meat grinder. No good any more. My favorite book used to be right over here– The Thorn Birds. Do you know it? It must have burned. I always kept it on the table. When I was feeling lonely, I’d just open it to one of my favorite passages and read a bit


June 30, 1999 Lyn Lifshin
65 years ago, the Night of Long Knives in Germany, the Nazis grinning wildly. In the smallest room over looking peonies and roses, my mother was packing a small valise, a chair against the door so if anyone

burst in, they wouldn’t be suspicious of how, in hours, she’ll sneak out with a new chemise and her heart pounding. Or maybe it’s some thing in her gut telling her no. If she doesn’t run off to marry this man she’s heard is from

a family of brothers who make good husbands she knows she would change her mind and knows before tiger lily or chicory pressed up like blue and orange tongues her mouth would water for the one she couldn’t keep, doesn’t yet know she will never not long for


Successful Spider - Matt Dennison
The successful spider weaves a web of complexity outside my kitchen window. What stems and leaves foul his work he gathers into an upper-corner canopy under which he spends his days avoiding both sun and rain.

My light attracts his prey. Working quickly, he tires his catch with fine, tricky steps, spinning them dizzy like a log-rolling weaver before drawing them away to his secluded corner to absorb them, face to face.

When finished (a fly requires one day, a beetle two), he drops them to the sill. Lighter than before, they are gone with the first breeze.

I weigh my progress against his. By 3 a.m., usually one of us has something to work on. If not, there is always the web.

Premise - Matt Dennison
When I was a child we lived in the country. It was my job to carry water to the animals in the evenings. I didn’t mind.

Two borrowed and useless goats always getting their heads stuck in the wire fence reaching for the green beyond were my current charge.

And I thought to myself one day: if there is a God He will not allow me to fill this big green plastic pitcher with water

and then drop it before I reach the pasture because the animals need water.

I thought: if there is a God who does intervene in our lives on the side of the good and necessary, He will not allow this waste and sin against the care of his beloved creatures. I turned on the spigot and watched the water fill the pitcher.

I turned off the spigot and stood up in the silence.

I saw my hand reach down and pick up the pitcher. I saw the grass, the pasture fence, the goats and the blue blue sky.

I filled and dropped the pitcher three times and then forgot about it. The animals needed water and it was up to me.

A mountain explodes beneath the sea, geysers and oozes and gathers the fish to build its watery tympani and swirl a music yet unplayed, unwished. The great wave does not move; plucked she now stays lyrics of potential, song of will be and won’t. Eight billiards in a row: graze the cue ball against them and none are free to dance save the last to the siren’s song. So natives ballet awash when their land disappears and continentals who’ve long heard the rhythms meet the beat of the band: Impetus, impetus, drums, each to each! Ballads are sung with the blood on the beach.

Blambangan Peninsula, East Java 1994

Tsunami - James Penha

Retrospectives - Joan Payne Kincaid
Aztecs nature in flat adobe Starlings at fat pretty spotted doors in rooms she paid for the aleut mask at Southebys and gave it back descending the stairs like an escalator of Bottles bawdy embarrassed Feathered boa love child battles Cat attack in window of won object d’art questions dogged petty Checks Letters in unanswered crevices A Christmas Bird clock now its 5 min.s past the white throated sparrow at the window starlings peck at questions of undo redo privatized side walks

Life memories from the corner of mindless militia was so happy the way they were light as the fluttering ribbon of Rilke in an old poem in her mind of metaphor for songs the heathen Indians were sent to bloody hell quote unquote click remote start over raving won’t you come down the back steps waving in that wall paper apron, from the grave you know ‘tis time for a small landscape where the lovely flowers have forgotten their names.


“As a result of the Gulf War and the on-going sanctions, 7,000 children die every month in Iraq.” 1996 News Report I try to write. Streams of angry rhetoric tumble down the page. Who could possibly want to read this? If it were someone else’s, would I spend even five minutes on it? I ought to be standing next to blown-up photographs of bombed-out hospitals waving my arms and shouting.

Gulf War Syndrome - R. Yurman

I look at my son– a man already–he’s never had to wrestle with his friends over a scrap of food or watch them bloat from drinking foul water, or triggered one of the missiles behind these photographs, yet he’s learned if he has no children, they can’t be taken from him


Martha Ford Bolton My Brother’s Keeper Arthur Winfield Knight
The old blind woman sings a ballad some fool wrote about Jesse James being shot by a “dirty little coward,” but that “coward” is my brother, Bob, and he got a reward for what he done. Maybe Bob did shoot Jesse in the back, but everyone knows Jesse was a killer. No one would have faced him.

The old woman stands there, sightlessly singing, in the faded sunlight on the stone steps to the courthouse. People drop coins and bills into her tin cup, but they don’t know. Nothing. I knock the cup from her hands, screaming, “Liar, liar,” then push her into the street, beating her with my fists. But the old woman stands there, her hands on her head, singing.

The Gopher Gasser Arthur Winfield Knight
We try everything: Fels Naptha soap, Chlorox and water, poison bait, even Ex-Lax. “Maybe they’ll shit themselves to death,” Kit says. But nothing works. Each morning there’s a new mound, sometimes two. Our dying lawn has become a summer camp for gophers. Finally, we buy The Gopher Gasser,


lighting the fuse on what looks like a small stick of dynamite, stuffing it into a tunnel. “Now!” We can only imagine the noxious air. When there’s no sign of them twenty hours later, we congratulate ourselves. “We’ve won.” But by noon there’s a new mound. They’re back. We look at one another, swearing hopelessly. “Shit. Shit.” The battle rages.

Fridge - Gertrude Morris
It stands in the corner of the kitchen humming a little song in praise of cold. Today I will make a stew. I reach in for an onion

Carrots, forgotten in the crisper, sprout feathery plumes green with hope. But waiting has turned them bitter, twisted as old mens’ toes. The stew must go without them. Later, in the swelter of August, torpid and swollen as a snake, I thrust my arm in to the elbow

dusted with sifts of earth. Out of their blind eyes, pale fingers grope in the dark for a garden. But it’s over for them.

and whittle its brown papery skin. There are potatoes in the bin

for a frosty nectarine or a plum, The cold is so thrilling I want to climb in.


Her Cap - Gertrude Morris
The day before Sabbath Mother woke me in the early dark to go to the Live Fish Market. She led me, half asleep, up and down several aisles where fresh-caught fish swam in tanks. When she spotted her carp, she kneeled on the floor and stared at it eye to eye,

as if to ask the carp’s permission to take it and it was given. All the way home in the trolley, I felt it stirring in its moist newspaper. At home, she filled the tub with cold water and the carp swam for one more night.

Having It All - Joanne Seltzer
The woman licensed pilot is a new mother a Hebrew teacher an electrical engineer and beautiful and happy in her marriage to a brilliant, handsome, egalitarian man.

She looks down upon one thousand clouds alone with her joy stick or on a business trip and sees a cotton-ball ceiling. I’ve never heard her say, “I’m not a feminist, but . . .”

Wolf Wish - John Grey
wish I could howl at the moon, some blood-curdling baying to level these sordid playing fields wish I could surprise myself with knowing what I was doing, with being some place unexpected but perfectly right

wish though I didn't have to feel the pain in the throat, the stinging of gravel-scarred knees

wish I was off somewhere in the distance, flesh tingling, hair rising, hearing me


Transit - M. M. Nichols
While Amaryllis was growing and fulling up to bloom, and bloomed, I lived eager on the edge of her expanding aura. Now that she begins to die, while she is failing, I feel ebbing in shallow poems her deep red glory.


What’s in the world, then? M. M. Nichols
adopted children? tumbling in gardens doing a handstand to see where heaven is a green sky and your toes see the way the world was before even after your whirled head

free to go flying but you won’t

comes up and both feet to a standstill


Weather at the United Nations - M. M. Nichols
Color of honey at last, the honeylocust leaves are stranded at treetop like ears of wheat wind-thrashed on a whitened sky. From top down you can see the trunk’s lightningesque zag, its black shine, a day’s rain soaking in.

The leaves, remnant of summer throngs, look puny – about to give in to that ashen sky roiling & in sudden rifts dark.

Far across the great lawn, at its edge a gape-jawed, retching dragon lies cold & bronze, receives with October rain St. George’s spearhead plunged into entrails of weaponry: intricate human art summoning to prayer.


Awned over by foliage of pin-oaks green still & water-glossed, two squirrels thrill the drenched grass with their speed & their halt, the rummaging & listening they do into its soft ways. I think of August,

sunny afternoons, how they’d pause beside the dragon and lunch on peanuts prized out of hiding in the wrecked rocket cone. And how I’d stop to eavesdrop on their prayer: the voracious, the full-bodied thanksgiving.

Labor Day, United Nations, 1983 - M. M. Nichols
at the far end of a sunken lawn, fir trees stand before the scatter of birds on baize-green grass over here the air vibrates with heavy winged engines working to stay up, carry, and progress

while out there upon the baize-green smooth lawn move minutely without sound the tiny birds of September
(Year is included in title because current U.N. visitors can’t see fir trees on that site; they were replaced long since by tall sculptures) 26

In the Beginning - Ida Fasel
God started with B in Genesis. He loved his alphabet as I do mine. I start from Rukeyser’s pregnant zero: little o, no bigger than a mountain-scrapped pebble, within its teeming space the polishable possibilities of gemstone; noble capital O, that portered Plato, Isaiah, Milton over the rough terrain of paradox, gave Paul the tongue of fire and angels. Lower case, or upper, o invites subtle persuasions, inspired motions that fill nothing with everything

within the limits of a human life; lets imagination run with the mind through all the blood lanes of the heart to the clarities – Bach’s B Minor Mass, a blessing in still air, visio dei. And all in circle continuity, bound to begin again where it ends, like the Genesis day, which starts at evening. With o of any size you never run out of pebbles on the access road to the sheltered beach where you may have an inkling of the hidden – the whole and holy way to becoming human.

to find ways through - Will Inman
all over today’s world, provinces of incestuous hate – small nations make war among their own kin, for the same god, each with a different face and voice with truth seen tunnel. each tribe obsessed larger nations

posture as parents, play up or play down, meanwhile enriching their neutralities with arms sales to all sides.

is not peace. armed peace does not make for freedom. tree, don’t wait for your brother. you question the Voice yourself: That I Will Be

absence of war

Miriam, hark to the talking I Will Be

ways through these oceans of kin blood

summons all tribes to find


14 October 1998, Tucson

Elgin Street, 2. a.m. - Joy Hewitt Mann
Shadows move like shutters across the neon lights and night’s eyes find no resting place but stagger on the littered street where dreams are crumbled into balls

and words distorted by the cries of rain. Nothing sings at this amplitude.


first published in Green’s Magazine, Fall ‘94

One Night Stand - Joy Hewitt Mann
In bed skin encloses like a warm fist and worlds blossom / burst in bouquets of flesh. Morning like a lover’s heart dissolves the street lamp light and love reflected in a whiter world is lost.

Sister Anne - Joy Hewitt Mann
her chaste life her water-colored days

her thousand-crystalled eyes her chalky skin stretched on the floor she folds her bloody hands across her breast and thaws his icy heart her vow of silence broken with a smile

7–Eleven - Joy Hewitt Mann
He was a spindly quiet kid whose loose-fitting limbs always buckled in a crisis but he needed the job and soon did it well. “He was a good kid,” they said. “Tough and loyal.”

The stain on the wall makes the new kid nervous.

first published in Whetstone, Fall ‘95

Relic - Albert Huffstickler
They found him lying like a stone beneath a bush, no mark on him. The desert sun had burnt him browner than he was brown already. A lizard had crawled up on his forehead and sat sunning himself, still and brown against the brown of him and him brown against the brown earth and the sun so dark it was almost brown– only the sky clear blue for contrast. He barely breathed. His eyes were wide, cognizing a void or deep in shock and dry from the sun.

You wanted to blink for him or, more than that, rise and walk out of that place where the sun would only get hotter before it was over and night floated down like a great black feather over distant mountains, wide plains and this bare hot place with its leafless bush and brown still body which they finally lifted and carried away, not even certain that what they did was right. The lizard retreated to a limb of the bush and watched them carefully out of sight. first published in Coffee & Chicory, Number Six, Spring 1998, Sacramento CA

ISSN 0197-4777

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