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Dowser’s Apprentice

by Helen Wickes


The old man hired to find the springs
ambled and peered and whistled.
He handed me the fork of witch hazel
gathered from the riverbank.
It was April. New grass shivering
at our feet, the meadow rolled out
green to the horizon, everything seeming
so ordinary. At first, I resisted the pull
into curvature. Amplitude is in the hands,
he said. Be boneless, give way to what’s
under your feet. The Milky Way above us—
that’s our shadow river, he said, and
that really we’re all visitors here, briefly
detained in human form. He asked
my parents for permission to rent me
for day wages, to be his hired child wonder,
his water seeker, promising them we’d find
every hidden spring in the county. For some
reason they declined, but I was ten and
magnetized for life, my filings aligned,
my purpose unnamed. I am certain that he
still rumbles under the sidewalk: Don’t forget
where you’re from—the bitter flavor of watercress,
river silt, and hazel bark. Some nights,
far from home, I look up to thank him,
star drift or meteor dust—wherever he’s gone to.

 

Helen Wickes lives in Oakland, California. Her first book of poetry, In Search of Landscape, was published in 2007. Her poem “The World As You Left It” first appeared in AGNI Online and was reprinted in Best of the Web 2009. She is a member of Sixteen Rivers Press and holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. “Dowser’s Apprentice” is from an unpublished manuscript, The Moon Over Zabriskie. (8/2012)


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