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Water in Its Three Forms

by Glenn Shaheen



In March, in fifty degree weather, my friend convinces me to walk out across a frozen pond. He slams a log into it to show me it’s safe. He wants my help grabbing an old hockey puck. I walk across the pond, despite all the school videos showing us not to, and we both fall through. The water is only up to our chests. My friend’s mother screams at us for an hour when we get home, but I don’t get in trouble with my own parents. Two weeks later a girl from the grade below us drowns after falling through a different pond. My mother cries in her room with the door closed. That night, an animal leaves an eviscerated duck beside our porch.


In college three of us drive across the state to the beach, paying an unexpected thirty dollar toll, because my friend Ana has a crush on our friend Jeff who is at home for the summer. We go swimming even though the red flags are up. The waves are incredible, higher than I've ever seen. If we aren’t careful it is like belly flopping sideways each time they hit. Our friend Kim’s top keeps getting knocked off by the waves, but Ty, who years later we learn is gay, is the only one who sees it happen. That night we head back to Jeff’s house and he and Ana have a long talk in his room while the rest of us hang out on the back porch. A palmetto bug crawls across my hand and I try to be cool about it, but I end up crying a bit. Ty and Kim say it’s ok, it’s just a bug, but this only makes me cry more. I am older than them and graduating, and I know this is the last time we’ll all hang out together.


My babysitter when I am seven likes to make tea. I am obsessed with the scream of the kettle, the quickness of the manufactured cloud. Once, twenty minutes after her tea is done, I am patting my hands across the counter and stove. I did not realize the burner would still be hot, and I gasp suddenly in pain. The fear in my babysitter’s eyes makes me want to amplify my hurt, to wallow in a place where I, briefly, am more powerful than she is. She says she’s sorry, she’s sorry, she shouldn’t have made tea in the first place.

Author's Note

I was looking through some very old library books trying to find word packages or phrases that I wouldn't normally use in my work. I encountered the title phrase, "Water in its Three Forms," I think, in a 1920s book on sailing. I don't know anything about sailing, though it seems like it would be fun. In the original text, the phrase "water in its three forms" referred to a foggy situation in an icy bay. I used the phrase as a thematic fulcrum and structured these three scenes around it. For me it's often energizing to look at different texts that I am not comfortable with, like old sailing books, court documents, governmental policies, because it keeps language in a constant state of mutation. Why get into this writing gig if we didn't want to mutate language into something unrecognizable? Something monstrous?

Glenn Shaheen is the author of the poetry collections Predatory (2011) and Energy Corridor (2016), both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. He is also the author of Unchecked Savagery, a chapbook of flash fiction published by Ricochet Editions in 2013.

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