The Ancient Modern

Water, As A Witness  /  Joshua Alan Sturgill         

Today I saw, revealed in my kitchen sink
while washing dishes, a Vision of the kind
that, like an incantation, banishes the world 
and makes the mind forsake the senses.   

With my hands down in the dishwater, I held 
for a brief eternity everything that water holds: 
what it suffers, what it knows: rain and coffee, 
monstrous fish in lightless oceans, tree sap, 

wells and rivers and springs, drownings 
and poisons and thunderstorms, baptisms 
and icebergs.  And then: an abortionist ritually
washing his arms up to his elbows after 

a procedure.  Blood from between his fingers 
mixes with lavender-scented soap and with 
cells of his skin and with traces of olive oil 
from the salad he had for lunch.  And it all

goes swirling together into the city sewers, 
under traffic and pedestrians, among bones
and buried electrical lines.  And water brings
the blood as if to Hell, with all the other

things in sewers, until it isn’t recognizable
as blood any more.  And I want to know: how 
did blood become blood in the beginning?  How 
is blood even possible in a world of sewage?  Why 

should salt and iron combine to make blood, 
when countless simpler combinations happen 
more readily?  Then, in the Vision (more real 
at that moment than my kitchen or my window 

or traffic or dish soap or desire or freedom 
or television or miracles or light), I lose my faith.  
I believe there are no things at all —  no blood, 
no iron, only a fundamental thinglessness, only

a ball of putrid dough — kneaded, rolled out, 
kneaded again, rolled out again.  And the hands 
that knead the universe look for a moment
like the hands of an abortionist, stained with 

regulations and rationales, with phrases lifted
from a law professor’s textbook, written in blood-
red ink.  But no! I see now: in that ink is Water, 
as a witness.  Scour everything with logic or legality.  

Water remembers.  Water, thick with things 
kept hidden since the foundation of the earth.  
Water bleeds everything it knows; it will disgorge 
its grief; it will soon divest itself of secrets


All poetry and supplementary material: copyright 2022 by Joshua Alan Sturgill. All rights reserved.

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