Coda – The Water Keeps On Keeping On – Three Poets on Water – Lane, Diaz and Owen


It was not the water you tried to find when you were young.
That was the water that lost you.
You climbed trees to look and the water was there.
You walked on the earth and the water was nowhere.
That was the losing water.
This water is the finding water.
It is cloud searching water.
When you are old it comes down.
It stretches out on the earth.
First water is woman water.
The belly of woman has this song.
That water was the first learning song.
This water is the last learning song.
It is the cloud under the earth.
Now you climb down roots to find this water.
Now this tongue is a root.
Open this mouth in the earth
Now sing this water song.
Now you are the last water.

Patrick Lane from Last Water Song, Harbour Publishing, 2007

Lots of watery blog posts these days. I wanted to add a coda to my two part series on the river poems of Natalie Diaz and Catherine Owen. As I read their poems I kept hearing my teacher and mentor Patrick Lane and his poem above, LAST WATER SONG.

I love the structured formalities of Lane’s poem as it contains this slipperiest, hard to contain, idea of water. The anaphoric repetitions of It is not and it, now and all the uses of the, this, and that. And each line an end stopped line. These verb propelled declarations line after line. And how so many of the lines end with water, song and earth. These anchoring, percussive repetitions.

The water images in Lane’s poem propel it forward. And the use of the opposites: it is not, it is. And I am struck by the line: When you are old it comes down. It is this line that gathers the poem into me and I can feel its meaning. Feel it more than understand it. And all Patrick’s structural devices and word choices makes that happen. This water deep in the earth, deep in the earth, the bones, of me. This deepest water that is solace, something so seasoned, a soul, seasoned.

Now this excerpt from Mojave Hispanic American poet Natalie Diaz’s eighteen part love poem to the Colorado River:

from The First Water is the Body



Toni Morrison writes, All water has perfect memory and is forever trying
to get back where it was. back to the body of earth, of flesh, back to the
mouth, the throat, back to the womb, back to the heart, to its blood, back
to our grief, back, back, back.

Will we remember from where we’ve come? The water.

And once remembered, will we return to that first water, and in doing so
return to ourselves, to each other?
Do you think the water will forget what we have done, what we continue to do?

Natalie Diaz from Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press, 2000

Natalie Diaz’s eighteen part poem spoke to me right away when I read the title with first water in it. Reminded me of Patrick’s poem. Natalie’s first water is different that Patrick’s but the song it sings sounds a lot like Patrick’s last water song. The deepest, purest water. Water that unifies us all. But I also hear a darker tone,a grief call in Diaz’s poem for what we have lost and what we are doing literally to the waters on this great planet. This water song.

And now the last part of Canadian poet Catherine Owen’s seventeen part poem:

from The River System
after Louise Cotnoir’s Archipelago (17 islands)



What if I told you
there is no river, that
on looking out my window
I see only an expressway, a meadow,
the face of a ghost.
What if I said,
there has never been any river
but only wartime, a half-price
sale, bullying in the school yard.
What if I wrote,
rivers such as these don’t exist
and there is only a small stain
on the rug, the coffee pot’s burn,
a hunger for me for the poem
beyond words.

Well at that point you’d have
to reply —
what you’re talking about
is the River that Still Flows Where
There is no River — you’d be right.

Catherine Owen from Riven, ECW Press, 2020

Right away Catherine pulls us in: what if I told you there was no river…? And from there she gives us images of barren landscapes, violence and destruction. Then simple domestic disorders: coffee stains, the coffee pot’s burns. Now I might say Catherine gets downright mystical. the River that Still Flows Where There is no River. An imperishable river flows. Some spirit represented by the huge metaphor of water will not die. The hope in this.

Patrick’s last water. Natalie’s first water. Catherine’s River that Still Flows Where There is no River. These life-giving metaphors of some imperishable spirit within us. Water that constitutes most of what we are as bodies. This element that sustains us. Its role in our spiritual health. Our physical health.

Now sing: sing, sing all our water songs!

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