May Swensonʻs Water Picture: You could paint it, if she hadnʻt already done it so well with words!

Here I am, on vacation near a lake where I get to feel the last cool heat of summer in the breeze of trees I grew up with. New England, the Berkshires, where the power of mountains and water infuse the land with a dizzy glory. Everywhere I look is beautiful.

This morning, from The Writerʻs Almanac, I get this fabulous poem, and I think itʻs the picture I would have loved to take here, if I could find it, and send back to you.

As writers, we can learn so much from this simple, eloquent description of a scene and the way it dissolves with a touch.


Water Picture  by May Swenson

In the pond in the park
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and
wriggle gently. Chimneys
are bent legs bouncing
on clouds below. A flag
wags like a fishhook
down there in the sky.

The arched stone bridge
is an eye, with underlid
in the water. In its lens
dip crinkled heads with hats
that don’t fall off. Dogs go by,
barking on their backs.
A baby, taken to feed the
ducks, dangles upside-down,
a pink balloon for a buoy.

Treetops deploy a haze of
cherry bloom for roots,
where birds coast belly-up
in the glass bowl of a hill;
from its bottom a bunch
of peanut-munching children
is suspended by their
sneakers, waveringly.

A swan, with twin necks
forming the figure 3,
steers between two dimpled
towers doubled. Fondly
hissing, she kisses herself,
and all the scene is troubled:
water-windows splinter,
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge
folds like a fan.

“Water Picture” by May Swenson, from Nature. (c) Mariner Books, 1994. Reprinted with permission.


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