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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

both camera-ready

and camera shy

White Zombie

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).

Originally published in the February/March 2002 issue of Boston Review

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