Essay on Water

victor pearn

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victor pearn

Essay On Water was selected for MSUL’s themed call for work about Water, in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum’s fall 2023 exhibition, Flint is Family in Three Acts, featuring the photography of Latoya Ruby Frazier.

for Reg Saner 1928 -2021
Is the ocean's
salty water potentially potable?
Out of respect
for my thesis advisor
I'll try not to imitate his successful,
intellectual style of articulate writing;
comparing and contrasting our lives is
like comparing and contrasting a constant,
and everlastingly
expanding cumulus above
a yellow desert-cactus blossom.
Although, both he and I
were born in the same
sabbath shire of
downstate Illinois,
where rain always fell heavy
after a loud thunder.
We both played tag ―
with friends ―
near the Illinois Braille
and Sight Saving School.
We both had a kidney removed.
He preferred hiking alone
in the desert
because the wind
didn't have much to say
there, unlike the wind talk heard
in Rocky Mountain aspen groves.
And the original desert dwellers ―
Anasazi ― always built
their incredible habitat
near water.
When Reg put a letter into my file
arguing against continuing
for the doctorate I thought, "that is narrow minded";
I now realize
it was compelled by his fatherly facet
his reason:
"He has two small daughters to provide for."
He and I are graduates of Illinois University.
He in Champaign; me in Springfield,
then known as "the Berkeley"
of the Midwest. He accepted a Fulbright
and studied in Italy;
I refused the Illinois Fulbright offer, from Professor
Dennis Camp who was also the curator of
the Vachel Lindsay House, so I
did not go to Paris to write poems.
I always felt guilty about Professor Camp
when I learned of his suicide
thinking, "If I only had accepted the Fulbright,
would he be alive today?"
If I had, I might not be in Colorado.
Reg Saner might not have been my professor.
He wrote "Essay on Air," and "Essay on Earth."
And so I carry on with "Essay on Water."
Oh, but I love the way "Essay on Earth," contains
the words: the sound "say" and the visual "ear."
And people always mispronounce names.
Strangers call him "Sane-r," but he called himself "S-honer."
Because I knew him
I hear his voice
when I read his essays and poems.
So you might ask, "What on earth
does this have to do with water?"
That's what I'd like to know.
Back when I was a grad student
Reg came to my poetry reading,
introduced himself to me.
I enjoyed his writing courses.
Six years after I'd graduated
he invited me to go with him to a
reading in Denver.
Afterwards he introduced me
to Mary Oliver.
I'd been teaching at
a Denver university.
Shortly afterwards I
received a call from
an English department
administrator saying
I could now come and register
for doctoral level courses ―
I didn't go back thinking,
"I am too old."
In this "Essay on Water,"
and in the desert west now
water's a diminishing desperado.
Buffalo wallows, ponds, creek-beds, more sand than water.
Reservoirs. Shrink into wavy lines of dry air.
Cumulus collapse into blue
disappear, like a candleflame in a mine
out of oxygen.
Drinkable water . . .
decreases and decreases,
as the earth keeps on cracking and drying up.
Oh, yes there's, "Water, water, everywhere,"
rising in surf around the globe
steadily and steadily on the rise.

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