MN poetry: Kathryn Kysar’s “Bodies of Water”

Kathryn Kysar is the author of a book of poetry, Dark Lake (Loonfeather, 2002), and the editor of a collection of essays, Riding Shotgun: Women Writing about Their Mothers (Borealis, 2008). Her poetry book Pretend the World will be published by Holy Cow! Press in March 2011. Kysar teaches at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and lives in St. Paul.

Bodies of Water

Elsie wrote

on the newspaper lining

of her sewing cupboard

mothers are the ocean

their children swim in.

The baby inside me burps, flips,

confirming her truth. The mother

is the ocean and the boat, the rubber raft

and the assailing storm, the water their bodies float in.

Marlon’s cells

are rebelling, sewing nebulous flesh

into shadowy, unconfirmed masses.

He awaits the tests as these cells

flourish at night in the dark,

sapping his energy, using his fat,

growing these strange fruits.

The baby converts my dinner

into flesh, into eyes and nose,

brain cells and bone. She takes my energy

plus apple juice to make blood.

She takes the car song of her brother

and makes movement, a leg or hand

hitting the sides of uterine walls

to the internal waves of sound.


I am eating a pumpkin pie for you tonight.

I am eating Caribbean rice. I am drinking whole milk

and dreaming of breakfast with toast and butter.

I am converting this food into energy into mass

into cells. I wish I could give you some.

What is it like to live in a home of water,

to breathe and drink the fluid of mother ocean,

buoyant and salty and clear?

I lie curled in the bathtub at night,

the lights turned low, mineral salts in the water,

the womb within the womb,

a mother becoming an ocean.

My neighbor tells me stories of Elsie:

Elsie plants a Haralson apple tree at age 98;

Elsie’s scraps of scribbled sewing paper;

the night she sits on her porch during a storm,

the huge elm crashing down, its leaves

brushing her screen windows, her roof.

I always wanted to see a tree falling,

she said calmly, in awe, in wonder.

Perhaps my time has not come.

Marlon is pale and accepting;

he has cleared his heart to calm.

Remission: he stitches words into paper with paint.

Perhaps my time has not come.

The ocean inside him rises, a cleansing water

of peace. He wakes from the dream,

sips a glass of water, and breathes.

– “Bodies of Water” by Kathryn Kysar, as it appears in her book Dark Lake, published by Loonfeather Press. Reprinted here with permission from the author.