Today’s poem is “Water Pail” by Megan Grumbling. Her first book, Booker’s Point, was the winner of the 2017 Maine Book Award for Poetry and the 2015 Vassar Miller Prize. She is also the librettist of the spoken opera Persephone in the Late Anthropocene, a co-creation with the late composer Denis Nye, which premiered in 2017 at SPACE Gallery.
She writes, “The inspiration for 'Water Pail' is Winslow Homer's painting 'Returning from the Spring,' in which a farm girl carries a water pail through a field. What struck me is that the girl is staring off to the side, at a bush with bright red leaves. I tried to imagine what she was feeling in that moment, in the sudden red warmth of what had pulled her gaze. And I imagined a small epiphany for her – a small awakening that also might foretell other awakenings.”
by Megan Grumbling
This carrying changes the arm.
From fingertips to throat she strains
as water pail and limbs are drawn
into the strange shared gravity
of carrying. Such care to keep
the water from her stride, from spill,
that something else is carried, too,
along her arm – her mind or mood,
an urge, is carried – till her eye
alights on something bright-leafed, red.
A flush, a pulse, a threat of spill,
and something else, she feels – like heat
after a flare, like drink that burns
for minutes once it’s left the lips.
Or how the sky’s strawberry haze
still warms after the sun has slipped.
Or after dropping books to race
that boy, exhaustion. Or how strange
the pleasure, how her burn held heat,
once, days after she brushed the stove.
Her arm is aching, and the red
runs through the ache. She’s often thought
that even emptied pails still hum
with what they’ve held. How bright a splash
can gleam against a fiery thing.
No easy balance, walking on.
Spring water ripples at the lip.
The vessel swings now, carrying
a rush of brim and emptiness,
near-spill and red, into her day.
Poem copyright © 2018 Megan Grumbling