Three Poems

Poetry / Claire Wahmanholm

:: Meltwater ::






:: Meltwater ::



:: Meltwater ::





From the writer

:: Account ::

These poems are based on Lacy M. Johnson’s 2019 New York­er arti­cle “How to Mourn a Glac­i­er.” They would usu­al­ly be called “era­sures,” though I’d like to find a dif­fer­ent word for them since the poems—and I—don’t have the rela­tion­ship with the source text that often char­ac­ter­izes era­sure projects. I’m not inter­est­ed in using era­sure as a method of cri­tique or con­fronta­tion; I pre­fer to think of my inter­ac­tions as a kind of close read­ing. I see the era­sures func­tion­ing like any oth­er crit­i­cal essay on a text, except that I’m using only the lan­guage of the orig­i­nal source. 

My inten­tion was that the vis­i­ble words would point up a series of par­al­lel storylines—ones that are some­times more micro, and more macro, than the orig­i­nal. There are only so many things that can be made explicit/conscious at one time, so iso­lat­ing cer­tain words might be a way of untan­gling those threads and mak­ing each more vis­i­ble. In the case of Johnson’s orig­i­nal essay, she’s writ­ing about Okjökull while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly writ­ing about much more than it, and I see the lone­ly words as mak­ing that “more­ness” explicit. 

I am hop­ing that the project also makes a point about the way we read news, and our ten­den­cy to notice nar­ra­tives we’re already invest­ed in. The poems obvi­ous­ly say some­thing about me and my own pen­chant for see­ing grief in every­thing (as well as my impulse to put every­thing with­in the con­text of children). 

I saw the essay’s instruc­tion­al title as mak­ing an invi­ta­to­ry ges­ture to mourn, or to at least con­sid­er how mourn­ing looks for each read­er. I was com­pelled by the fact that my own mourn­ing, maybe, is already embed­ded in the orig­i­nal text, so that the essay is (poet­i­cal­ly) enact­ing the mourn­ing that it (jour­nal­is­ti­cal­ly) describes. I was try­ing to repli­cate on the page what I felt like my body was doing when I read the arti­cle, which was like a slow­ing down of my heart, or an uneven­ness in its beat­ing. Like large chunks of myself were being eat­en away. 

I was inter­est­ed in doing more than one era­sure (and iso­lat­ing dif­fer­ent words every time) to empha­size the cycli­cal nature of mourning—how we make minor adjust­ments with­out any sweep­ing over­haul, how it’s (appar­ent­ly) pos­si­ble to mourn the same things again and again but using dif­fer­ent words. I am hop­ing that the poems high­light the ten­sion between the appar­ent inabil­i­ty to communicate—the way we write arti­cles and arti­cles (and poems and poems), and noth­ing changes—and the impulse to keep try­ing any­way. And by mak­ing the high­light­ed words off-lim­its for the next poem, I was try­ing to show how the pool of words to draw from drains and drains. The way our vocab­u­lary dimin­ish­es and dimin­ish­es, we have few­er and few­er resources avail­able to us as we descend into grief.


Claire Wah­man­holm is the author of Night Vision (New Michi­gan Press 2017), Wilder (Milk­weed Edi­tions 2018), Red­mouth (Tin­der­box Edi­tions 2019), and the forth­com­ing Melt­wa­ter (Milk­weed Edi­tions 2023). Her work has most recent­ly appeared in, or is forth­com­ing from, Cou­plet, Ninth Let­ter, Black­bird, Wash­ing­ton Square Review, Good Riv­er Review, Des­cant, Cop­per Nick­el, and Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal. She is a 2020–2021 McK­night Fel­low, and lives in the Twin Cities. Find her online at