Poet's Sampler: Jacqueline Waters
Introduced by Charles North
Jacqueline Waters is a young poet from New Jersey who has published very little at a time when it seems every young poet has accumulated, via electronic and other means, at least a Selected Poems by age thirty. I find her poems both ...highly accomplished and highly intelligent. I also find them in large part mysterious. Often starting off in medias res, they are framed as narratives complete with weather, significant surroundings, conflicts, crises—but almost instantly they shift gears, then shift again, so that it is clear that the narrative flavor is just that, and that the poems have to do with other things, in particular, the flow of consciousness (including its weather, stumbling blocks, break-ins, etc.). If high wires and modesty can be said to coexist, to me her poetry is a modest high-wire act whose magic lies in the apparent effortlessness of abrupt transition, not merely from one setting to another but from one sort of poetic attention to another, almost always convincingly.
Country of Lincoln-shaped Men
Spectators said wake up to yourself
with the corollary that wakefulness
is next to bodilessness
not just a bunch of dry dates
banked up in the ledger
or a hump-backed bridge
noted at odd hours
by an unruly version of myself
In my opinion I have never left the field
I look to the embankment
beset by microphones
Wind numbs the players
and they stream away
It's hard to see the end clearly
Instinct gives way to technique
and like a pendulum
I get a little bit at a time
from a seemingly fixed perspective
The whole contraption lurches along
in a provocative coupling of gears
You'll find it all rather suspenseful
provided you don't pay close attention
As I said, I just couldn't
On a day determined by calendar
the waters rose and changed in color
Their warmth evoked a geography
strangely at odds with memory
where solitude was less permissible
nor did the truth
rev itself up
to be told just as it was
I began what could be a lifelong tantrum
exchanging rational understanding
for an undercurrent of slow
purposeful clapping, as if my ideal coterie
consisted of weary airline passengers
The backs of their heads as they arrive
and scrutinize the backs of seats
As long as they smile we rest
at ease with the altitude
lulled by the enunciation
of sonorous proper names
If an hour is the enlargement of ardor
then as a place where visitors feel at home
it is what its title says it is
rehearsing what's always been done
for what next there is to do
behind a cameo with raised brows
and camera shy
I cannot choose one or the other: I am like the fork.
The sky at the end of the powerline
withers away in shadow.
I retrieve the newspaper
conscious of my pajamas
and return up the driveway.
These beginnings embarrass me.
Like when I learned to play the pan flute—
I thought if I cultivated self-control
I would have an interesting, useful life…
Now I don't get out much, edge from room to room
peeking through the sashes, blunting urges.
I climb a ladder to clear a gutter
somehow knocking down a nest
of a perfectly comfortable family of wasps.
I am merely doing my duty, but find I disturb others.
When I was a child
but I was never a child
just as my boots had no life
until I put them on this morning.
Perhaps I ought to louver that elephantine window.
Or the hut entrance where the wax plants wax.
Then I saw a copy of the original
in the living room across the street
making me aware that I am not alone
that others are watching
from their beveled jewels and horns.
Let's back up a second.
A house must reflect the soul
with castle-sized door knockers
activity in the pantry
walls that leap to the hands…
I see I am moving away from my object
but in order to contemplate it I must miniaturize it
its circuits crossing the card and lighting,
falling dark by evening.
Look at the lights. Where's all that juice coming from?
There's not a station around here for miles.
Someone had better make it their business to see about that.
All along I've been changing the details
stuffing the book
with anecdotes of the poodle
high above the marbled bath…
I wasn't sure what to forecast
it was the noon of life
a moment of choosing.
Many trees grew tall and turned to signage
but I never forgot the future,
even now I proceed painstakingly toward it in stockinged feet.
I admire your fierce leaning on it.
Really? It's all due to an editing error.
I guess there are options, the things that crazy people
cling to, and there is later to think it over,
now to do it, if only in the sense
of backing up against it, sinking into it,
dying a little. You, at your most festive, barely quiver.
I reach over in my sleep and pour the water on the floor.
Young Nohejl at Naples
How can property matter if I
am not in the image of myself
early and without relief
pulled out the door by alarming winds
whose hollows support the sounds of cans
struck by falling water. The night is back
with an elder blue. At the risk of reappraisal
I am fencing off the stars, for though the name
suggests a starling, it is used by any bird, as love
is never honest or ambitious as seen by lovers
settled down for battles. Loops of seagulls
perform their noises, lulled to the rigidity
of a mournful cop. Forever the cost of being human
will be an affront to the means of being better
as mysteriously as I repel you
and am relieved.
Jacqueline Waters's first book of poems, A Minute without Danger, was recently published by Adventures in Poetry. She lives in New York City.
"White Zombie" originally appeared in A Minute without Danger (Adventures in Poetry/ Zephyr Press, 2001).