On the beach I found Brancusi’s head lying
on its side, Sleeping Muse, the perfect
oval of a face abstracted in white stone.
Seagulls cried, raucous sails whirling
in circles, the sea’s insistent roil, push and pull
walking almost impossible on the heaving
shore, stones rolling back and forth
each ragged pulse of wave.
Already the white stone was water
earth, water, earth; as if I held
a mirror of our future lives together, the way
I held our son in my arms,
two days old, and kissed
the perfect oval of his head.
At work in his Paris studio, white light flooding in
Brancusi must have been so in love with his muse
he searched, chiseling with fury the rough white stone
until finding her, lifted her head
off her body then tilted the smooth stone face
so that slight indentations of eyes, faintest
crease of mouth, birthed from his own head,
she was released
Beavers are the Shiva of the animal world. Who knows how a beaver chooses where to make her pond? But once she does, trees fall like spears of light then overnight disappear, dragged to underwater lairs, or left to float eerie carcasses, every branch and shred of bark stripped clean.
Last week I saw the beaver who’s been cutting down the woods near my house. It was evening, the weary light thinning through the trees by the time I reached the bridge. Sound came first, a crack so loud I flinched, thinking my neighbor had shot his gun. But across the newly flooded swamp, I saw a brown head cutting a silver vee. Beaver, the first I’d seen.
One black eye visible, staring, back and forth she swam, a crease in flat silver, then she dove like some huge furious fish and her dark tail flicked up and slammed the surface. Another crack echoed through the trees, her warning.
Now my beaver swam faster and faster, back and forth before me on the bridge, fierce, her whole being focused on this one resolve, to make me go away. Again she slammed the water, sound booming through the trees.
This swamp was hers, her trickling dam, her fallen trees, her growing pond. Each day water rising. When I didn’t move she began to track me, that dark eye locked on my standing figure.
This time, when she dove, she took me with her, my svelte younger self moving through the hot water ladled with silt, down to the bottom of the pond where she had carved her underwater trails, clawing roads through the deep muck.
When I surfaced I was middle-aged, messy in my ways as if I had grown four sets of yellow teeth, two layers of fur, claws, and dark scales cascading down the thick paddle tail. Half fish, but no mermaid.
Twist of hand
and the slim batons crack
free, only to slip
from my grasp,
white clouds cut loose
Down at the pond a flurry
just under water, while here
in the hot dirt
the surprising weight
of them lifting
In 2012, Leila Philip and Garth Evans set out to challenge themselves as artists. Philip, an award-winning prose writer, wrote poems. Evans, an internationally renowned sculptor, made watercolors. Water Rising (New Rivers Press, 2015)—from which these images and poems are excerpted—tells the story of this collaboration. Philip’s realist poems—about nature, beauty, love, and loss, set amongst Evans’ abstract, deeply hued, layered watercolors, create a book which is more than just a gorgeous read and a visual feast. What emerges in this book is a stunning and original collaboration, which, as Worcester Art Museum Director, Matthias Waschek, points out in his introduction, extends how we think about the relationship between painting and poetry.
Water Rising has an environmental mission. The authors are using the book to generate funds for and conversation about environmental stewardship. You may help support Water Rising by purchasing a copy of the book at the book and art collaboration website: www.water-rising.com. 100 percent of net proceeds are directed to organizations dedicated to environmental stewardship.
Leila Philip is the author of three books, including The Road Through Miyama (Random House 1989, Vintage 1991), for which she received the 1990 / PEN Martha Albrand Special Citation for Nonfiction, and the award-winning memoir A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family (Viking 2001, Vintage 2002, SUNY 2009). Philip has received numerous awards for her writing, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities. Her essays have been widely anthologized. Fluent in Japanese, she writes about Japan as well as art for a variety of venues, including Art in America and Art Critical. Philip studied poetry at Princeton University, where she majored in comparative literature, earning a Fifth Year Degree in East Asian Studies with a concentration in Japanese. After working for several years as a journalist, she went on to earn an MFA at Columbia University as the Woolrich Fellow in Fiction. Leila Philip is a professor in the English Department at the College of the Holy Cross. She lives and writes in Woodstock, Connecticut.