From conception to creation: A poem is born, part 2

A few blogs ago, I wrote about how my poem “Tierra del Fuego” started with candles perched on two dresser tops across the room. I mixed in Magellan’s discovery and naming of Tierra del Fuego, and ended up with a poem about a relationship. The process for my poem “Johannesburg,” published in Orange Room Review and in my upcoming chapbook from Propaganda Press, took the opposite direction. “Tierra del Fuego” had started with a scene from my everyday life and wove in some history. “Johannesburg,” on the other hand, started with a geographical fact and it then built on events from my life.

The poem started with my reading the simple fact stated in the first line: Johannesburg is the world’s largest city not on a major body of water. This reminded me of how dependent people are on water — for transportation, but more importantly for its life-sustaining properties. From there, I went back into some rather painful personal history. I remembered my grandmother not drinking water before she died back in the ‘80s and also remembered that my father seemed reluctant to drink liquids just before he passed away last year.

These events, and my mom’s death, formed the basis for this poem, which at the end comes around again to the imagery of water being life-sustaining and critical to life.


I read that Johannesburg is the world’s largest city
not on a river, lake or ocean. That’s what I read.
Water is important. But what I know for sure

is that my grandmother could not drink water
just before she died and I remember feeding her
ice. My mother, well, she died like a vapor

before I could even feed her goodbye.
My father anointed his dry mouth with a swab
dipped in water the night before he passed.

And I wake up and reach for the bottle
on the nightstand and just before
the water passes my lips a thousand thoughts

enter my mind and I drink anyway,
thirsty, but what choice do we have, really,
but to stay close to water

for as long as we can


~ by harryc13 on April 10, 2010.

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