By Lisa Dordal
Special to Lesbian.com
Through deeply personal and culturally grounded narratives, Water Lessons explores the relationship between reality and imagination, faith and doubt, presence and absence, as the speaker grapples with multiple dimensions of grief arising from her mother’s alcoholism and eventual death; her father’s deepening dementia; and her own childlessness. Against the backdrop of these personal griefs, the speaker scrutinizes the patriarchal underpinnings of the world she grew up in as well as her complicity in systemic racism as a white girl growing up in the 70s and 80s. Woven throughout the book are the speaker’s meditations on a divine presence that, for her, is both keenly felt and necessarily elusive, mirroring the speaker’s ultimate celebration of her unborn daughter as a “lovely fiction” who is both here and not here.
I love how my wife says operators are standing by,
whenever I’m out of town and she wants to chat.
I love that birds can see stars and that even fruit flies need sleep.
I love that an African grey parrot learned how to use 100 words
and that his last words were: Be good and I love you.
I love how Jesus stopped a crowd of men from stoning a woman just by writing in the sand.
I love that an octopus has three hearts.
I love that Mother Theresa only heard from God one time, and it was enough.
I love that some birds mate for life—and that after one dies,
the survivor sings both parts of their song.
I love that our brains are mostly water.
I love that some people believe in heaven. And some don’t.
I love that an owl visited my wife in a dream and that my wife said hello and asked:
Are you the kind of owl that people refer to as a barred owl?
I love that what saves one person is not the same as what saves someone else.
I love how the word cranium sounds like the name of a flower.
I love that my mother keeps wanting to show me her garden.
I love that the owl answered back.
My Mother Is a Peaceful Ghost
In my dreams my mother keeps walking out of the kitchen singing
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
She never sings past the first verse.
Last night, I dreamed I was back at the house—
every light on when I arrived. My mother, forgetting
she was dead, smiled, said she was fine, everything
was fine. At family gatherings—weddings, baptisms—
my mother would look around, sort of stunned,
and say: There’re so many of you! As if
we’d arrived from some place other than her
own body, a country foreign to her. My mother
is no longer flesh or breath. She’s not a thing
anymore. Is she with God?
Some days I believe, some days I don’t.
Centuries ago, in a church in Europe,
someone carved God Help Us into a pew.
Plague years. Sometimes my god is so big,
I wonder what’s the use. Divinity
diluted into nothingness. My mother
tried to stop drinking. I stopped, she told me once.
Like you’d stop a dryer or a washing machine.
We were standing in the Blackwater Falls gift shop
looking at coffee mugs printed with maps.
West Virginia on one side, waterfalls on the other.
One mug had a gold star to mark the visitor center.
You Are Here, on a travel mug. Here and
not here. How do you name what isn’t here?
She tried to stop. And didn’t.
Lisa Dordal (M.Div., M.F.A.) teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt University and is the author of Mosaic of the Dark, which was a finalist for the 2019 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, and Water Lessons (April 2022), which was a finalist for the Poets Out Loud Prize from Fordham University Press. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize (judged by Phillis Levin), the Robert Watson Poetry Prize (from the Greensboro Review), and the Betty Gabehart Poetry Prize from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including The Sun, Narrative, RHINO, New Ohio Review, The Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, CALYX, and Vinyl. For more information, please visit her website: lisadordal.com.