Water is a metaphor for the life cycle as the poet chronicles the role played by water in his life, in all our lives--"the sac of water we live in." The poet evokes the sound of water as he moves through life stages: swaying trees register the sound of the water from which we emerge at birth, "the sound of sighing" denotes the sound made as he washes his dying father’s feet, whispering rain "outlives us."

The poem is replete with images of water that conjure up family relationships over time. In the ocean of his childhood, his athletic brother cannot swim while his crippled sister swims like a "glimmering fish." Water is a visible symptom of the congestive heart failure suffered by his father--"swollen, heavy . . . bloated"-- whose "respirator mask makes him look like a diver."

As the poet tends to his father, testing the wash water "with my wrist" like a parent, there is a powerful recollection of the father’s earlier ordeal as a political prisoner. Finally, there is water that liberated the family, bringing them from Indonesia to America, juxtaposed against the water that is now drowning the father.


An interesting poem, rich with imagery, that evokes both family relationships and our place in the universe. It is worthwhile to compare the rendering of the father-son relationship in this poem with that in Lee’s Mnemonic (see this database).

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