by PAULANN PETERSEN

You’d think water’s female aspect
would be a pond, a lake—deep,
reflective, still, taking
the sun and moon and clouds
onto its slick-shimmered skin.
Wrong. You would be
dead wrong. Being a woman, I know
at least that much about water.

One high-summer day, I stood
behind a waterfall, in a shallow cave
scooped out of the cliff’s base.
Through the cascade, I looked out and down
at the roiling pool where the water’s
falling came to its end.

Din pummeled my ears. Mist weighted
my hair. The air—smelling of
skunk cabbage, willow and mullien—
tasted fecund and wet. Deafened, mute,
I gazed through that plummet joining
a world on high to the one below,
and I knew.

The man is rock—
still, ever still, afraid to give up
his hard-won place far above the rest.
The woman sweeps right over
his prominence. In sheer free-fall,
she heads down to earth,
hellbent to reach the sea.

Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita, has seven books of poetry, most recently One Small Sun, from Salmon Press of Ireland. The Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds chose a poem from her book The Voluptuary as the lyric for a new choral composition that’s now part of the repertoire of the Choir at Trinity College, Cambridge.

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