MN Poetry: Philip Bryant’s “Wade in the Water”

Philip S. Bryant is the author of several collections of poetry, including Sermon on a Perfect Spring Day, which was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award in 1999. Most recently his work appeared in Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 years of Minnesota Poetry. Born and raised in Chicago, Bryant is currently a Professor of English at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Here’s a poem from Bryant’s collection Stompin’ at the Grand Terrace: a jazz memoir in verse. The book is accompanied by a cd, which features Bryant reading some of his poems to musical accompaniment by pianist Carolyn Wilkins.

Wade in the Water

I wanted to say

Honey chile, let’s dance!

but didn’t move

from my place

in that dark corner.

She was a big black girl

with a small round face

and thick wide glasses.

She waited alone

on the other side of the room

as dancers moved

between us

graceful as small minnows

swimming through blue

shallow waters. I wanted to

wade right into the water

come up and make a big splash for her

on the other side of the room where

she’d stood all night staring

across the vast empty spaces

– as if peering across a big wide sea –

to pull her in up to her knees.

I knew the others would laugh

but so what.

We’d hold each other tight

and slowly wade out farther

until the water lifted us up

and carried us out on a crystal

blue tide of music.

– “Wade in the Water” by Philip S. Bryant, as it appears in his collection Stompin’ at the Grand Terrace: a jazz memoir in verse, published by Blueroad Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.

Interested in hearing more from Philip Bryant? Check out one of his recent commentaries for MPR.