It was time to dig a well in Vermont.
My mother, never one to waste a penny,
asked in the town as to who was good
at finding where the water was.

The answer came up Walt Stowall, our plumber,
a farmer from down Townshend way,
a big round patient man whose vowels
were clipped and honest as a hoe,

a less mystical and airy-fairy person
you could not imagine in those blue overalls.
He come up to the house one spring morning
when the sap was running like the roaring creek

and cut his witching rod, a young sapling
maybe three and a half foot long, started
off near the house, with that young maple
sticking out horizontal in front of him,

Didn’t take much time for water either –
that stick pulled straight down, yanking
out his hands like a trout was
on the other end of a line to it.

I was in my teens, I think, I’d never
seen water found like this or any other way,
so when he asked me if I’d like to try
myself, the answer was out in a flash.

He showed me how to use the stick:
you grab it with the stem pointing down,
you hold the forking branches of the Y
like you would two ropes coming from above.

And then you turn your wrists towards you,
so that stem goes out before you like a lance.
I maybe felt a little foolish like that,
as I walked right towards the spot

where I had seen him hold that jumping rod
pulling down so hard the bark had twisted
off the slick light wood that he was holding
on so tight to. And when I hit that spot:

Nothing. Not a twitch. I was disappointed –
I’d hoped to feel that dancing in my hands too.
He offered to help. I went back over to him
and he walked behind me, He put his great

arms round mine, his strong paws gently
on my forearms, we started back towards where
he’d had his strike, maybe ten steps
from where we were, out in front the house.

We got there slowly, then: TOOONG!
He didn’t push one bit, whatever bends the rod
came up into me, the hook sets –
is a lightning rod, a charge

That Y-stem yanked down just like for him,
I held on tight like he had, my world
changed then, it won’t change back,
not as long as I can feel like then

that rod jumping, twitching, pulling
out away from me, pointing down
towards some spring, just like a setter
points towards the fallen duck.

Dowsing isn’t just a theory when you’ve
tensed your forearms against the tug
of something hidden so far below you
that you didn’t know you knew to sense

its presence. Mr. Stowall gave me certainty
that day, just like he gave us water for the house.
He and I were unconcerned about questions
any scientist would ask: was water found

that day so long ago? Of course. There was
no doubt that when the digger came and sank
that steel into the vein he’d found that there’d
be water for us – they only went down

twenty-five feet, that well is running strong
right to this day. There was no mystery
in the digging. My mother knew the folks
in town would know who knew his stuff.

She probably paid a couple dollars as she thanked
him in the kitchen, poured some juice to drink.
And I had learned: there is an art to divination.
Our body knows so much we never see.


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