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Sample Poems by James Bertolino

The Path of Water

Nothing can make water better. –Ursula LeGuin

Water builds.
Water waits.
Water grows heavy
with its own wounding.
Earth is the planet of water.
We are water. We are the history
of water in this star system. We sip
molecules that brought oxygen to the tissues
of blind fish. Our breaths remember ice.
Sweat remembers clouds sliced by pterodactyls
on leathery wings. Water rises and sinks.
Water that traveled by comet for thousands of years
finds news of the universe in the urine
of Tibetan priests. Water teaches.
Water is the path that takes us
in. We swim
the mind of water.


This morning the ice came.
Everything fresh
and new––but don’t be fooled.

Water is old.

When it’s just cold enough,
ice will enclose everything––pebbles,
twigs, ripe fruit and all
we’ve built––in a brilliant casing.

This is the way water memorizes
what is temporary and
in danger. Water carries the blueprint
for what has been made,

what is missing.

At this moment, in the profound depths
of the Pacific, water is remembering
a perfect model of Hiroshima
in April of 1944.

It is glowing with the pink
of plum blossoms.


Back when electric lights
were a new thing,
people thought the tiny

flashes they sometimes
saw beyond the corners
of their eyes

had to do with
the mystery of electricity.
Now we know those

blinking bursts are from
almost unimaginably small
alien spacecraft.

We needed to comprehend
that intelligence doesn't reside only
in things that are large.

Even molecules have
creation myths
to help prove

they exist.

You May Believe

A facet of beach sand
makes its way to the sea.
Given the particular shape

and weight, I notice how original
the dance it enacts, within
the sometimes steady,

sometimes fickle forces
of the receding water.
At one moment of its course

a tiny item of debris catches
and holds the flicker, until an
increasing sweep of current

allows it to spin free.
If I needed confirmation,
I could follow this

cogent drama to where
the incessant waves will at last
remove all semblance of purpose.

You, my special friend,
may believe your life
is different from that small body

of sand, but I do not.


At a distance we saw a sapling with an

of ice or snow.

Closer, where the bark
had split away, in an area
at eye-level and above, the moisture
fanned out into a long

frill of lacy

crystals, as though the soul
had needed to leave, but was frozen
in an ephemeral gesture,

too low perhaps

for death to complete
its arduous project.