In Their Own Words

Lisa Wells on “Under the Water, Carry the Water”

Lisa Wells author photo

"Under the Water, Carry the Water"

after Talking Heads

If there is weeping in this place, no one hears.

All the riding mowers going and the men
astride their machines, float along the lawns
with princely composure.

I am alive in the house each night and so
I sense the grasses straining

they throb and they extend.

I loved my husband best when he was spent,
slicked with sweat, delivered shirtless
from the yard.

Here, an outside man is paid to do it

and there is time to observe
the churn

of rotors
roaring in my forehead.

To endure this

all I have to do is last.


Morning came and came
again, I rose

put coffee on and waited

in the bathtub
while the water flowed

loathed and craved what most
I needed

man in my kitchen
hardly known, hardly knows

the water holds me down.
Born again

from a lukewarm rill
an inner counsel warns

there may be some discomfort
in taking other forms.

Yank the plug—funnel touches down
sounds the suction.

Which way it came or where
the water goes

I couldn't say.


He often brought me flowers.

I thought of their struggle
from burial to the thin

air of the world
into color

how they were severed,
scattered across our table

the calm unraveled
the mind pursued its dim

circle of light to meaning
everything ends.

He married a mind like that.
Like a mole

dark and small

but tenacious.
Undermining every happy lawn.


Wake to touch the potted earth,
gauge its moisture, the spring
in the fronds, feel for rot.

I have a feel for it.

I have forfeited his hands
moonrise in the ridged nails
carbide band.

In sleep
he bucked with dreams
he stole the sheet

all the hours we shared a bed

now night song leaks into my ears unchanged

it rings within
the gutted room
you lose

and the platitude is true: life goes on

it goes and goes

From The Fix (University of Iowa Press, 2018). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

On "Under the Water, Carry the Water" 

I wrote most of The Fix during the slow dissolution of my first marriage. Leaving was a fix I'd theretofore regularly administered: schools, jobs, relationships—all quittable in the impulsive instant, provided you can live without care, money, or instruction. But divorce is a whole other kettle of fish. You leave a marriage and the other person stops being your problem. Great! Now you get to be your own problem. Here, a fresh hell waits on the other side of exhilaration, the dread of dizzy freedom. (Another strategy: quote Kierkegaard in an attempt to elevate your ordinary pain.) It is a quotidian hell, and this is part of its special power. Divorcing was not, in our case, technically difficult (you pay $400 to the state of Iowa and check the box "the marriage is broken and cannot be saved"), but experientially akin to molecular dismantlement: it hurt to the roots, but nothing you could point to. The fact that we remained friendly only made the process more confusing, after the initial consolations of sleeping diagonally and getting laid by relative strangers You may ask yourself how did I get here? The aggrieved have long observed; in a period of mourning every day life is an affront. How dare you mow the lawn today? Can't you butchers sense I'm alone in here, unshowered, in pain??? That this is common is no comfort, it is further indignity. Talking Heads understood this. And in the end, you wind up learning what you already knew: life goes on, this too shall pass, all you have to do is last, all the platitudes and projections and repressed aggression come home to roost. What to do but go take a bath in Lethe? Emerge, as always, subordinate to experience, flayed, squeaky clean.

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