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  • The Flower of All Water
  • Robert Wrigley (bio)

after Roethke


You went back to the land of your birth,and lo, you were miserable, and pinedand whined and sulked with aggressive silences,until the people who loved you most were gladdestto see you go, and you went back to whereyou could have been happy if you'd already been,and lo, you were not happy but miserableexcept in a different way than before,

until you were not and became, between periodsof misery as common as weather, gladto be both where you were and who,and happiness came and went and cameagain and went again like weatherin all the miserable lands of men.


During your exile you studied topographical mapslike skin. An imagined landscapebecame your lover. You rhapsodizedso mellifluously two of your friends movedto the mountains the next year. Would they forgive you,would they love you, would they wonderhow unhappy they must have beento move sixteen hundred miles away at the urgings

of someone as lamentable and doleful as yourself?Still, there were mountain lakes no trail came near,and some of those you would visit on your own. [End Page 177] Miles from anyone. You were never afraid.You saw things miraculous and wild.You'd never been so perfectly lonely in your life.


Here, at the end of the double-broken linethe map's legend definesas an "unimproved road," the road ends.Here you find a mile of single-broken line,the trail that trudges across the field of another map,and here is the trailless ridge you clamber up toand traverse, crawling over and hiking aroundboulders and twenty-foot ravines

too shallow to show in contour lines,then the field of rocks as big as houses downthe slope to the lake so remote no one yethas given it a name, nor the mountainsouth of it, over which you watched the moon rise,and in the lee of which the moonlight ravished you.


At the headwall, where the snowfield stoodfor all time, hidden from the sun,where eagles scattered bones—voles and pikas in the eyes of the cloudsand trout given away by the moon—here you learned the moment waxturns wane, calculated every full moonof your life against the number seen,

and saw the flower of all waterand the water of every flesh,and saw your shadow shade a thousand blazesof quartz on the shoreline ledge,where the moon illuminated a translucent troutand a cluster of bones deep under water. [End Page 178]


It seems the land of your deathis just as likely there, at the end of the long shaftof moonlight, a simulacrum of your life.Only at the petals on the surfacecan you breathe, neither in the plummetnor having drowned. Only in the membraneof gladness, the intoxications of weather,the never-long-enough caress of the sun or the moon.

Sing awhile. Accentuate the silence,study constellations you invent when left to your own.Every map believes it is a metaphor.One night you dream you find your own bonesin a meadow beside a riverand lie down beside them until happiness lies with you. [End Page 179]

Robert Wrigley

Robert Wrigley was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. His collections of poetry include Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems, winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award; Lives of the Animals, winner of the Poets Prize; Reign of Snakes, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award; and In the Bank of Beautiful Sins, winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award and finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award from the Academy of American Poets. He lives in Idaho.



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pp. 177-179
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