To Touch the Water
At the time To Touch the Water was published, Gretel Ehrlich was a filmmaker, essayist, editor, cow- and sheepherder, part of both the West and New York, as well as a poet. The poems here speak deeply of personal experience. They are portraits of the people who have pressed their lives on hers; strong open images of the landscapes that are the West, complete with storms, drought, sun and wind; love poems as large and grainy as the landscapes. Death is never far away. Although her poems are personal in detail, they speak to all about the truths love and life hold.
The full text of Gretel Ehrlich’s To Touch the Water is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
Long flanks of snow straddled and
drifted my cabin all winter.
Held me the way a man would
if there had been one here.
If only I could drift into a place and
hold a time of year so elegantly.
Then break my legs leaving
to embrace the awkward spring decay.
You should hear the way snow
sizzles and shrinks, hisses and rots away.
Overnight someone new steps into
those white thighs and drags herself downhill towards
the next season. A thunderstorm
unties the sky. It composes and decomposes darkness,
and forgives what it has gathered there
by letting it rain.
Rain opens like a woman’s shirt and
showers milk on corn.
A flood starts inside those ears,
a stranger’s teeth drown in silk.
The rest of summer is
dust and under that, a thousand miles of
surface straight down.
on bruised light, its knives and forks of
electricity carving sheets of rain.
Fall is breeding time. The bucks
are put in with the ewes
and under them dry grass
couples with snow.
Are we really
genetic or seasonal—dust to dust to dust—
everything skin-deep only?
This morning the last glass sill
of ice windowing the river
held what I am when I’m alone
but feel someone else
moving in me.
Copyright © 1981 by Gretel Ehrlich