"And the place

                                        was water





      Water lily mud

My life


in the leaves and on water

My mother and I


in swale and swamp and sworn

to water


My father

thru marsh fog

      sculled down

            from high ground

saw her face


at the organ

bore the weight of lake water

      and the cold—

he seined for carp to be sold

that their daughter


might go high

on land

      to learn

Saw his wife turn



and away


      who knew boats

            and ropes

no longer played





She helped him string out nets

for tarring

      And she could shoot

            He was cool

to the man


who stole his minnows

by night and next day offered

      to sell them back

            He brought in a sack

of dandelion greens


if no flood

No oranges—none at hand

      No marsh marigold

            where the water rose

He kept us afloat





I mourn her not hearing canvasbacks

their blast-off rise

      from the water

            Not hearing sora

rails’s sweet


spoon-tapped waterglass-

descending scale-


            Did she giggle

as a girl?





His skiff skimmed

the coiled celery now gone

      from these streams

            due to carp

He knew duckweed



toward Mud Lake bottom

      Knew what lay

            under leaf decay

and on pickerel weeds


before summer hum

To be counted on:

      new leaves

            new dead






He could not

—like water bugs—

      stride surface tension

            He netted



As to his bright new car

my mother—her house

      next his—averred:

            A hummingbird

can’t haul


Anchored here

in the rise and sink

      of life—

            middle years’ nights

he sat


beside his shoes

rocking his chair

      Roped not “looped

            in the loop

of her hair”





I grew in green

slide and slant

      of shore and shade


thru weeds


Maples to swing from






Grew riding the river


      at home-pier

            Shelley could steer

as he read





I was the solitary plover

a pencil

      for a wing-bone

From the secret notes

I must tilt


upon the pressure

execute and adjust

      In us sea-air rhythm

“We live by the urgent wave

of the verse”





Seven year molt

for the solitary bird

      and so young

Seven years the one



for town once a week

One for home

      faded blue-striped

as she piped

her cry





Dancing grounds

my people had none

      woodcocks had—


air around



such as what flower

      to take

      to grandfather’s grave



water lilies—

he who’d bowed his head

      to grass as he mowed

      Iris now grows

on fill


for the two

and for him

      where they lie

      How much less am I

in the dark than they?





Effort lay in us

before religions

      at pond bottom

            All things move toward

the light


except those

that freely work down

      to oceans’ black depths

            In us an impulse tests

the unknown





River rising—flood

Now melt and leave home

      Return—broom wet

            naturally wet



soak-heavy rug

water bugs hatched—

      no snake in the house

            Where were they?—



who knew how to clean up

after floods

      he who bailed boats, houses

            Water endows us

with buckled floors


You with sea water running

in your veins sit down in water

      Expect the long-stemmed blue

            speedwell to renew






O my floating life

Do not save love

      for things

            Throw things

to the flood



by the flood

      Leave the new unbought—

            all one in the end—



I possessed

the high word:

      The boy my friend

            played his violin

in the great hall





On this stream

my moonnight memory

      washed of hardships

            maneuvers barges

thru the mouth


of the river

They fished in beauty

      It was not always so

            In Fishes

red Mars



rides the sloughs and sluices

      of my mind

            with the persons

on the edge"


Lorine Niedecker, “Paean to Place” from Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, Copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California. Published by University of California Press.