Whether Or Not

Jun 23, 2017

Today’s poem is, "Whether or Not" by Kathleen Ellis. She has published four collections of poetry, and a new chapbook, Outer-Body Travel is forthcoming this fall. Poems from her manuscript, Dear Darwin, were set to music and released as a Parma Recordings CD, nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award. She teaches literature and poetry writing at the University of Maine in Orono.

She writes “I was returning from delivering my partner & one of our canoes to the start of the Kenduskeag Stream Race in April, & I realized on my drive home that I'd become a White Water Canoe Race Widow. Nearly every weekend from March through November, my partner competes in Maine's white water racing circuit…I thought about my loss of canoeing for the mere silence & mystery of it, because my partner was mainly interested in racing & not slow meandering along the river. And then I leaped to thinking about the river itself, & how with climate change & more frequent flooding, the river had also become fickle & changing. The poem regrets these losses, but it remembers, too, that the river, like love, is mercurial & steadfast in its acceptance of change…”

Whether or Not
by Kathleen Ellis

All that remains of the winter’s snow
                                                                                          is a strand

                        of white beads scattered
among the ferns.

                                                       Everything is dying to be revived
                 whether we want it to or not.

They say climate is what you expect,
                                                                                            weather is what you get—

                                         rain continuing into rain
in the unseasonal seasons. I waited

                                                                                          for the river to rise
                                                                 into years before portaging

above the falls. Then we measured:
                                and all spring, the river kept rising.

                                                                                        higher than last year

                                          and the years before

And in June, the river was bony
                                                                             bonier than all the years

                                                                       we’ve been together here

                                        where the island we live on

                    surrounded by water, unloosing the dams
of our own weathering                           and we tried

to staunch the flow but we were out of sorts,
                                                           imagining a planet without us.

                                  Loving water doesn’t mean it loves you
back. And even while we stare

                      the seasons down, water pours
                                                           with its mercurial indifference,
spilling through.

Poem copyright © 2017 Kathleen Ellis.