Two Poems by Michael Waters

12 June, 2024
Sinnerman continues Michael Waters’ exploration of trespass as a mode of worship in poems that “delight in wit and wordplay” (The Gettysburg Review) and display “raucous devotion” while assuming “a divine erotic presence even in his more harrowing poems” (The Georgia Review). If sin is “seen as good once gone,” these poems weigh our attraction to transgression against our desire for forgiveness. Novelistic in depth and reach, elegiac in its embrace of the living and the dead, raw in its fraught vulnerability, and cunning in its explosive and tongue-delighting sound play, Sinnerman seems poised between the here-and-now and the invisible it invites and confronts. (Etruscan Press)


Michael Waters




I will no longer enter a cathedral
Unless it conceals a single
In a recess reeking of incense
Where one bulb illuminates the oils
That they may shine more darkly,
That I might recognize the human
Flaws in divine depictions
& weep with wonder.
I’d rather stroll the local mall,
The galleria in Milan
Where women burdened with bags
Stop to scratch with one foot
The bull’s huge balls for luck.
That mosaic on the tiled floor
Snorts near sliding-open doors
Where summer’s dense, ungodly heat
Hammers the falsely frigid air,
While prayers exhaled for centuries
From nearby pews in candled naves
Diminish in the vaulting.
Here is my prayer, murmured over ice
Shaved into a paper cup
Euro’d from a vendor
At the bottom of these cathedral
Steps where I sprawl, syrup
Sweetening my tongue.
I will no longer enter a cathedral,
But wherever I go
I’ll still pray with the sinful
Devotion of Caravaggio
Who paid his prostitute, robed in blue,
To pose for a tableau
As the poxed yet holy
Virgin Mary.




When the Studio Arts professor
Assigned still-lifes of a single object,
I chose the banana for its shape & color,
But too quickly the banana
Turned, during the days of my drawing,
From green-going-to-yellow
To daffodil
To fulvous egg yolk
To speckled trout
To oil spill
As the black bottomknot crept upward,
Blotting the fruit,
Seeping beyond its sorry skin
Over the serene interior scene—
Tablecloth, bowl, blank brick wall—
As I sketched again & again
The spoilage, the relentless rot,
Until forty black paper sheets
Windowed the walls of my house,
Each a study of willful rejection
Of the things of this world &
All that they are not, each
A mirror of failure, each
My veil, my shroud,
My darkling cloud,
Each my final


Michael Waters has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently Sinnerman (Etruscan Press, 2023), Caw (BOA Editions, 2020), and The Dean of Discipline (U Pittsburgh P, 2018). Pagan Sky: New & Selected Poems 2000-2025 is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2026. Darling Vulgarity (BOA Editions, 2006) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2001) was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. The Bicycle and the Soul: Prose on Poetry appeared from Tiger Bark Press in 2024.

He has co-edited several anthologies, including Border Lines: Poems of Migration (Knopf, 2020), Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies (Knopf, 2019), Contemporary American Poetry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and Perfect in Their Art: Poems on Boxing from Homer to Ali (Southern Illinois UP, 2003). His poems have appeared in numerous anthologies, including five editions of The Pushcart Prize and in Best American Poetry 2024. Waters has chaired the poetry panel of the National Book Awards.

A 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, Michael Waters has also been the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright Foundation, MD State Arts Council and NJ State Council on the Arts, and residency fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Rockvale Writers’ Colony, St. James Cavalier Centre (Malta), Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland), and Chateau de Lavigny (Switzerland). Waters lives without a cell phone in Ocean, NJ.

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