National Drinking Water Clearinghouse
West Virginia University
PO Box 6893
Morgantown, WV

2003: Wisconsin's Year of Water
A Collection of Poems

Zahf al-Jafaf (Drought’s Crawling Reptile Army)*
(Written during dry spell of August, 2001, a month before 9-11.)

It rained

and rained
and rained
And suddenly stopped.
The earth echoed for awhile.
Then was silence.
The static hiss of drought
Rattled its snaky husk,
Dragged its desiccated belly
Toward our town,
Wrapped itself around our throats
And plunged its fangs
Deep into a refreshing well of blood.
One drop escaped.
It trickled to the earth,
Tickling the parched grass with its red
And silver tongue.
Faint laughter from the dusty graves
Of our forgotten ancestors arose,
And segued into echoes
Of faint

Kevin J. Barrett

*Zahf al-Jafaf first published in The Book of Hope, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Editor. Iceland: Beyond Borders, 2002.

Your Dog Knows

Porcelain waterbowl
Brimming with purest liquid essence:
Your dog knows
What that fine china bowl is for.
You, apparently, do not.

Diamond-tipped technophallus had to bore
Through three hundred thirty two feet
Of silt clay sand and solid rock
To get that precious drop
Of life-giving liquid pearl

Served up for human swine.

Your dog knows
What that fine china bowl is for.
You, apparently, do not.

Ten thousand miles of pipe
Forged from vulcan’s finest ore
Or minted fresh from primeval petroleum ooze
Dredged up from even deeper reaches
Than the jeweled waterdroplets,
Laid out in labyrinthine webs
Beneath the teeming human hive

Who tore up the earth
To give you all this,
To give you this porcelain waterbowl
Brimming with purest liquid essence?
Your dog knows
What that fine china bowl is for.
You, apparently, do not.

You excrete in it.

Please excuse the observation
That you, my friend, are
A damn sight dumber than your dog.

Kevin J. Barrett

Fragile Sanctuary

I approach the edge slowly, not wanting
to disturb the peaceful moment; this morning
the blue heron has made this corner
of the pond its home,

legs resting in the water it stands still,
its neck angled toward the water.

I have arrived at the exact moment
when it is listening to the murmur
of the water, decoding its message,

message my humans ears
cannot comprehend.

I stop. Serenity falls over the pond’s water
like a protective embrace.
I blink my eyes twice believing the sight
might be just a mirage created by the sparkles
riding atop the soft peaks the ripples make
on the almost still water.

When it becomes aware of my presence,
the blue heron stretches its wings outward,
lifts from the water and flies out
toward the sky, leading me to believe
that defeating gravity’s intentions
of keeping us bound to the ground
is within the realm of possibilities.

On the sky, the blue heron flies higher
and higher, blends with the clouds, leaving
behind the memory of a shadow.
I wonder will it find home again?
Does it know where home is?

Near me, the pond returns
to its usual stillness, to its rhythm,
its water attempting to hold on to a fragile
sanctuary where the blue heron
may return should it fail to find its home.

Nydia Rojas

Morning Rain


After summer’s dry spell raindrops
tap on the windowpanes announcing
life is here,


The raindrops join, blend and become stronger-
Miracle we cannot echo. We don’t understand
the blending of the raindrops coming together
from all over the world.

We don’t understand their commitment
to become one, to grow together-
regardless of what weaknesses

or strengths each inherited from the clouds-
they join, become rivers and lakes-
follow their way to the oceans. Eventually
they will return to the clouds.

I listen to the raindrops
as they echo each other’s urgency.


In the sky the clouds complete the ceremony
that must take place: their possession of the sky.
They join the wind. The sunlight momentarily bows
to the clouds. The sun accepts

its temporary relegation to second place somewhere
behind the clouds, getting ready to carry out
their responsibility: to exhale the treasure
protected by their unpretentious clothing.

I catch raindrops in my hands.
I dream of many hands joining my hands.


The rain pauses, Then the raindrops return
with more vigor, join to create the wet trails
where I’ll set my footprints. I listen to the rain,
hope it will open my dreams like ripened nuts
that could carry us to the next season,
beyond all those dry spells I know will come.

Hoping the raindrops- so persistent,
so abundant, so demanding- as they
announce their arrival is the miracle we need,
I plant sunflower seeds like hope the rain can summon:
two tiny leaves growing to produce the round, yellow flower
so intrigued by the sun’s daily journey.

I plant sunflower seeds like hope
the birds could harvest from our hands
when we face next summer’s dry spell.

Nydia Rojas


bury yourself in now between the hay and the steam
and try to think about all the angles we have failed to measure
how the moon swells at the horizon
almost wet that moon
it’s probably ‘cause it gets too close to the pond
just think about how many grasshoppers have added to the toad muscle
how many damns were built
how many angles were never measured
the angle of the muskrat tooth to the tree
the angle of the bridge to the river

we all remember the day our flags hung in the air
like deflated circus performers
this is not that kind of reminiscence
what we bring to the table
is the thread of Highway 14
and the yarn of the Wisconsin River

the highway crosses the river
in more places than you’ll ever remember
a river has no perfect angles
a highway counts on them
a river has smooth corners that the highway will never comprehend
who i want to be and who i became
is the difference between the highway and the river
the difference between angles never measured
and angles measured twice

harmony was somehow lost
like a loose coin down a moon-littered alley
but we can find it my friends
we can find it
all we have to do is remember the special relationship
between the highway and the river

the highway is where we want to go,
where we thought we’d go
where we want to be
and the river has no angles
and the river has no end
and the river runs fast and free as your mind

you just gotta let it
and you just gotta figure out
that there’s a flow and an undercurrent

discovery of the undercurrent
can only be performed with
a cold toe and an open heart
discovery of the undercurrent my friends
that is what we attempt here today

bring together the thread of Highway 14
bring it together with the river
where they intersect is life
where they intersect understanding
where they intersect is an undercurrent
uncalculated yet perfect in its tug and direction

don’t forget that sometimes the highway cuts down
through the middle of your heart like a bloody ditch
find them intersections my friends
find them intersections
and find those rivers
those rivers are your blood
those rivers is your blood
is your blood
is your blood as red as mine
have you gone further down the road than i
have you found all of the undercurrents of your own blood

where your heart and soul intersect
is the same as where a river and a highway meet
and the undercurrent is your unmeasured love
for water and direction

james lee

“james lee”
James Lee Phetteplace
1417 Williamson Street #2
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 239-2762
This poem can be found on the CD “Highway 14” by James Lee and the Malt Lickers, available on the web at


Wherever water and wind reside
Waves die on shore then resurrect
In stronger forms to meet the same demise
The lake, a liquid mirror, growing restless
Gathers things once forgotten
And casts them upon itself
These thoughts roll over me on the shore
Of a waveless lake while one raincloud
Floats in the wrong direction

Distracted by memories that shimmer and resemble
Trees, buildings and the crane that watched me
I try to remember that the secret is in
The dip between ripples, and the placid bands
That separate concentric, expanding rings of wonder
Then one drop, and then another

I feel the water touch my lips
Slide down my throat
Revive my lungs
Unwrinkle leathered skin
After days of spitless swallowing
Like monsoons after deathly dry seasons
Water brings to life cells of earth and tissue
Planetary plasma from the universal donor

Breathing things and things appearing not to breathe
Burst forth in wet ebullience
We are but minute suspensions
In this cosmic flask of water

Ken Haynes

Sestina de Agua

Violet, translucent, infinite silk veil
Streaked with stretching, shrinking bands
Magenta, chartreuse, teal and pale orange
Backdrop for oceans of air we call sky
Wet hem drinking mercurial liquid
Reeled in and out with moon rays and mystery

Rolling mood ring of mystery
Hole to forever disguised by the veil
In torrents of liquid
Oil slick purple and silver bands
Mirrored in sky
Tied in loose bows of orange

Gulls glide in jagged horizons of orange
Dissolve into mystery
Of a darkening sky
A chasm of space calls beneath the veil
In bold, gentle, even, then erratic bands
That break to free bastions of oceanic liquid

Beneath the feet that once stood on ground there is liquid
That boils and blisters until the world is coated in red that fades to
The earth is stretched then cinched in by rainbows of bands
That cloak the senses and leave unexplained things to mystery
That reveals pieces of what was familiar beneath the veil
That reaches wide to enfold the sky

Tumultuous, tepid, tawdry, tempestuous, torrid sky
Waving, languid, luxurious, celestial language of liquid
Millions of shells cast on sand like bones then slipped out to sea beneath
the veil
Their meaning savored for a splash in eternity the color of orange
All that was known reduced to foam and returning waves of mystery
Answers left to ocean sounds and notes played by celestial and oceanic bands

Celestial and oceanic bands
We can embrace but not hold ocean or sky
Some things must be left to mystery

In leagues of thick, sultry liquid
Absent hints of yellow or orange
Swathed in velvet theater curtains that form the heavy veil

Seething, seductive, suffocating veil
Last thought, a splash, a gasp, a dream of misty mists of orange
Eternal black and blueness, we are nearly all liquid

Ken Haynes

The Lake in Morning

In the mist of neither night nor day
Before the first yawning of the sun
The water spiders scrawl messages
On lily pads then slide them on liquid glass
To be read by those who’ve left
Their arrogance on shore

The water will enfold you, embrace you
Like the scent of a lover from long ago
Inhale the multicolored mist
Release the beating of your pulse
To thump with syncopated rhythms
Of crosscurrents, undertows
Dive into the exquisite moment
When the tide is neither out nor in

Feel the boundary of your skin dissolve
And know we are made mostly of water
Feel the boundary of your skin dissolve
And remember that we all live downstream
From one another

Ken Haynes


Saturday night in the projects
The tub filled with brown water
Incinerators belched black smoke
on gray buildings, gray pigeons, the gray river

The housing authority would not allow us
to bathe in tainted water, I believed
In 1955, kids still swam in the East River
dodging buoyant, brown, bulbous balls

of unmentionable composition
toilet paper, small children’s toys, very small children
missing toothbrushes and other flushed things
Old timers fished for eels

Strained to remember days when fish hit their lines
Now seagulls swooped for bobbing morsels
Flushed pieces of lives shot from portals
along the path in the park

that stretched along the river
I stayed away at low tide
when the aroma was emphatic
and sunsets bathed the park in beige

They would not poison
then allow us to use and drink
tainted water — I believed
I mattered more than that

Ken Haynes

Lake Monona in Moonlight

The lake celebrates
Its full moon by dressing up:
Black velvet, sequins.

Heather Dubrow