Água Viva, and Other Novels by Women


by Darcie Dennigan

I am always washing things
(I’d make a list here but my hands are wet)
This morning washed from the floor a fish
who’d leapt its bowl. I am always washing
things, and washing the fish from the floor what flooded
my thought: we perish’d, each alone
Hands always busy at the tap, can carry no thought
to the extreme “… but I beneath a rougher sea,
and whelmed in deeper gulfs than she…”  all day
I listened to that deep water
(That’s enough, you can stop now)
To swallow all of it or be swallowed by it
(I did, was) (do! am am am)


(Something happened, that I, because I did
not know how to live it, live as something else)
How much is it worth?

What? This pool deck furniture of a woman’s mind?
(And there’s the sales tax!)
Tithes of mintwater and anisewater and cumminwater—
You asked how much is it worth
Were I to name the price the price would be my name
(Would I name the price if the price were my name)
Fish on the floor, gasping in the chiasmus
(How can I be sure it is I I am selling it to?)
There’s water on both sides of the scale
Something happened.
(Sorry to have to say it again.) (Swimmer’s ear.)


Let every thought be drought
I know only in order not to know
Consciousness is not an aquatic process
I await someone who does not share my lungs, etc.

This shoppe’s a better world than I deserve
There is so much light here
When I decided to enter the forest of water I knew
it would be dark, and isn’t it just like me
to find the all the phosphorescence
(plus an underwater speaker for synchronized swimmers)
isn’t it just like me to find a clerk job
in the inner world to keep busy


Let every drought be sought
Froth is a dream (Calderon)
Thirst is such stuff as dreams are made on (Shakespeare)
—I’ll buy that second one
as a bumper sticker for my paddle boat
because if dreams are poured on top of thirst then
desire for water is the ground I sleepwalk on
or if water’s only a dream that dreams up itself
the word dream is rinsed of its weight
…thrashing around in the rhetoric (notwavingbutdrowning)
What’s the return policy on soggy items?
The only words I want are the ones I do not know


The problem of selling puddles
is how to package them
If I put this puddle in a glass bowl
(yeah?) wouldn’t it cease to be a puddle?
Quite moist, these problems (oh yeah)
I’m alive as—
(I want to buy a Great Lake!)
If I were alive
to the truth of my life would I (not) be
dead? I feel this urgency in my being
(a Great Lake!)
and also an urgency to retreat from the surface of action
that the first urgency brought me to
alive/dead, the surface tension interrupted
by swells
(a Great Lake, please!)
The swells together making one Hesitancy
All’s well
Just swell


I would like a foothold in the actual world
Then behold:

This glacier, which you must crest
before it defrosts

(the only thing that interests
me is whatever cannot be
thought whatever can be
thought is too little for me)

…you know what
you can’t buy this glacier

here’s a straw

here take a sewer bill
and a straw

(i love living!)

here drink this can of fluoride
and you will have died


To keep myself busy I’ve been re-arranging the shelf
of surfaces and there are many—shores, docks, piers,
wharves, poolsides, beaches—my hands’re wet, see how
busy my mouth is, declaiming?  I cannot talk
brightly, lightly (loud!) enough to the customers
to stop this fear (I can almost hear
the message I do not want to hear)
Now I’m splashing vigorously to drown it out
(See my hands at work? “splash” “drown” etc.)
(i.e., I refuse to doff the bathing suit my words wear)
(i.e., This page is a no-nudes beach)
Eighteen thousand times the poor messenger has chased me
through the little underwater castle of the fish bowl
while I, to escape her, have climbed (vigorously!)
up the minaret and thrown myself off


(I can only conjecture from what has passed so far that this novel’s outcome will contain
a sadness that will at first feel buoyed by surface sadnesses but whose very surfaceness
will belie a deep tragic sadness, like peering too long at a portrait whose aim was
to produce a likeness of a real woman but for whose model the artist used a doll)

All day I am washing the water-globed jewels, swabbing the shark reef
Either a malignancy is inside me or I am inside a malignancy
(busy busy busy) (hello welcome to the water shoppe, how may I help?) 

Self-belying, I said but I heard self-bellying and
if you’re trapped inside the whale you must sell the belly
the packaging has got to be spectacular
or this fish business will really go belly up
now that I’ve gotten rid of that belly I’m bikini-ready
sold it for a song, got soaked in silence
I would like to meet you
before you die. I think I will have to die to meet you. You
are invited! It is I who invites you. Of course it is I who I
am inviting, and since that’s true, you know how
(how much?) I want to hear from you

Have read one book: the one from which I drew this water

serum factum

(I wrote this with one finger in the steam on
the glass)

This brittle mask
cannot reflect the face, its happiness, upon prying
open the submarine hatch and reading the neat tiny hand
of the drowned one’s note that has yet to be written

I do not not want to meet you
(i love living!)
But you come all of the time, here you are again
I would like to buy a bell
Very well, very well.
And you’re looking at me and I am looking away
With my apron on I sell you the sight of an eddy
With my apron on I promise you that
when the eddy is frothing, it means in the other world
a bell is ringing—you can be sure
Though I sell more doubt than certainty
(I am of course knowingly continuing to talk so that you can-
not) my greatest fear is being
The eddy is frothing
The bell ringing
being being being

Photograph by Jean-François Chénier.

About the Author:

“Água Viva, and Other Novels by Women” appears in Darcie Dennigan’s new Palace of Subatomic Bliss from Canarium Books as “Water for Sale.” Some portions of the poem were published in Oversound.

Dennigan writes plays and poems and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.