The Language of Water


“Then I began to say what I believe.”

– M. Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry


We talk about migrants but not
the bones of feet—talus, which is also
a mass of rock at the foot of a cliff;
cuneiform, which is also an ancient Mesopotamian,
Persian, and Ugaritic form of writing; navicular,
which also means “boat-shaped.”

We should talk less of boats, of lack
and need. (Though these are all the same.)
We should talk about how lungs under x-rays
look like leaves under sunlight, how the veins
of each spread out like the veins of river beds.
About the pulse in a finger pad or nail bed.

We talk of tearing hands from other hands,
about invasions of bodies over land.
But we should speak more about the way
sweat thickens between palms,
the way a womb thickens, preparing
to host life, preparing to shed it.

We cannot talk about refugees and not
talk about war or water. About the breath
into and out of the mouth and how this is union.
The precise pulmonological term
for visual evidence of disease is “sign.”
There are many types, many signs:

Haystack sign. Hilium convergence sign.
Holly leaf sign. Finger in glove. Flat waist.
Ginko leaf. Golden S. Incomplete border.
Juxtaphrenic peak. Melting ice cube. More black.
Sillouette. Steeple. Spinaker. Straight left heart border.
Third mogul. Walking man. Water bottle. Wave.

We must name what we don’t know
before we pretend at what we do.
When we talk about migrants
we should breathe more and talk less.
But if we must talk, we should speak
in the language of water.

Lee Peterson