Despite that I’ve lost count how many drafts of Whispering Through Water exist, one thing has remained throughout every revision: the title. I grew up in a small town on a coastal peninsula, and practically every house was within three blocks of a river. Water imagery creeps into my writing, whether intended or not. Water has the power to both heal and destroy. I’ve experienced the beauty of the water on a spring day, and then the menacing beast during a hurricane. Water is the ultimate paradox.
I discovered the poet, Denise Levertov, when I took Feminist Poetry in graduate school. I often return to my well-worn copy Levertov's poetry collection Breathing the Water (1984). The title highlights the water paradox. The image of breathing water brings to mind either images of healing and cleansing or suffocating and drowning. (Personally, I lean toward healing imagery).
When my sister and I were kids, we would sink underwater in the pool and try to mouth words as the other would try to guess what we said. Of course, we rarely guessed correctly and just ended up spraying water at each other. Although in real life, sometimes our voice feels as if we are screaming through a filter of water. Our mouths go through the motions of movement but without sound. Despite her longingness, the protagonist in Whispering Through Water often feels stifled by her own reluctance to speak her truth, particularly to the family’s matriarch, her Aunt Delia.
“It’s like in my mind I feel as if I’m screaming for her to understand what I want, what I need, but then when the words leave my mouth I feel as if,” I paused to gather my thoughts, “as if I’m just whispering through water.” . . . My aunt was the one person who I was terrified to confront, and the one
I most wanted to hear me."
-excerpt from Whispering Through Water
One of my favorite poems in Breathing the Water is “I learned that her name was Proverb.” The poem explores the power of human relationships, no matter how brief, people we may only know for a moment, but that play a pivotal role in our lives. A person we may only have spoken to once, but years later would recognize without question. Or maybe it’s a person we have known for years, who has now grown and changed with time, but one word can take us back years to when we met them.
“one crucial moment, gaze to gaze, or for years know and don’t recognize
But of whom later a word
sings back to us”
-excerpt from “I learned that her name was Proverb” by Denise Levertov
My novel Whispering Through Water explores both types of relationships. The brief relationship that shapes a lifetime, and the lifelong relationship that must change to survive.
I’m excited to count down the days until I can share Whispering Through Water with you.
Keep looking up.
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Rebecca W. Wheeler
School counselor, psychology educator, and yoga instructor.