Watershed

Zaffar Kunial

From Minneapolis, ripples

grow. And grow. Minneapolis.

That polis whispers of police

but speaks of the city, the same

word going back. Minnehaha

is Dakota for waterfall

chains of water, in a shocking

drop. In the suburbs of a word

are old outpourings, arrested

sounds, but there is no h now

in Minnehapolis. City

of waters. Quiet as a ghost,

that h. Quiet as watching clouds.

In the state of Minnesota,

state of sky-reflecting water

waters ripple wider, wider

with the Mississippi River.

If breath has a letter, it’s that

sound huh—the soft h at the end

of breath—breath like a dry river.

Not as hard as streets, now

hallowed, rules that ring hollow,

but the h that alters what stands

before it and makes hard endings

not stop but breathe on, like the h

in watershed or the h in worth

or the h in death or the h

in birth or the h in “Mother—

Mother,” last words of a British

soldier, on the ground, near to death—

is it wrong for me to go there?—

from the wetlands of French trenches

to Minneapolis, water

city—from a century back

to a locked-down

May, two years back—

from a man who’s white to a man

who’s black. Should I go quiet?—

as a cloud in water, quiet

as that old lost h in the heart

of Minnehapolis, or sound out

like the h in human. Water

wears the uniform of chevrons

and ripples. Isn’t it the job

of ripples to move outward

and wider? Isn’t it the job

of rivers to enter other

mouths? Matter and mother are one

word, going back. Is one “Mother,

Mother” or “Mama! Mama! Mama!”—

a grown man’s cry to the first source,

the birth of breath—not the same cry,

not a matter of the same worth

as another

as another

as another

as another

Zaffar Kunial is the author of England’s Green and Us. The winner of the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize (2014) and the Northern Writers’ Award (2013), he has been a poet in residence for the Brontë Parsonage and the Wordsworth Trust and now lives in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire.
Originally published:
December 6, 2022

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