The Watercourse

The Watercourse

by Cynthia Zarin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375709777
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/17/2003
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.34(d)

About the Author

Cynthia Zarin was born in New York City and educated at Harvard and Columbia. She writes for a wide range of magazines and journals, including The New Yorker, where her poems frequently appear. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and a winner of the Peter I. B. Lavan Award, Zarin is an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She has published two previous volumes of poetry, Fire Lyric and The Swordfish Tooth, as well as several books for children.

Read an Excerpt


A telephone rings in the vast house.
No shadows to the far-off sound,
but here dark gathers in high clouds,
as if the earth had spun around,
and through a telescope I see
the moon’s cold check best by storms,
black sky that cannot, will not pass,
carbon in sunlight's marigold.

My child is gone too far from me.
She is too fair, too wise, too old.
With every greeting she departs,
she goes to where I cannot go.
I know it, though—the logs are lit,
the beach fills up with party guests,
Ankle-deep, she stands in surf,
sand holding her as I cannot.

It's better than it could have been,
by far, since what once was turned out
to be some other way, and all
is well except it never ends.
Waves hug the shore with their long shrug—
the riptide that was out is in.
She moves to speak, I tilt the lens.
Soon this view will grow cold too.

Spode Plate

A branch sprouting from its crook a chrysanthemum,
and below, new leaves, a grass snake, a pale line

in the glaze that between us, we can call a river.
Stars, smatterings of the old crowd–Andromeda, Orion,

the bear cub, and now, far off, you. How in heaven
did the plate get so dirty? I rinse it with soap

and water, I scrub like a child taught to have faith
in washing, then furiously, my back a question

mark, my hunch the crouch of a crone with an ear
to the ground, a doubter, but a cloud remains

over the flaring sun and the coiled serpent, smudging
the wry plain of stars. I didn't know this could happen.

I thought if you scrubbed, the stain would dissolvein
the water used to douse it, and the scene–the burning

tree with its too-heavy bright bloom, the black stars
on the charred hill, the ragged maiden–would again

be a place that had heard nothing, and seen less,
a landscape of mild temperance, the smooth porcelain

alive with the sheen of reflected moonlight, where Orion
could shoot the bear along the river, and miss, and miss.


Why did I say what I did to Harriet?
She was my age: nine, I don't think ten–
a kind of taunting I'd not do again.
Not to Harriet, who for me still
limps up the hill, jacket torn, stained skirt rent.
Harriet who wasn't beautiful yet.
Monster is what the mirror said to me–
I opened my mouth and Harriet fled.
Now those words are breath, there's no sound
but the hissing wind in the wild trees,
and Harriet falling, as she didn't then.

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