Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

Today’s poem doesn’t seem to need much introduction. The speaker considers a well, presumably on his property, and tests it with a pebble to see how high the water is. Like the best simple poems, it can be enjoyed for its simplicity, but there’s also more there, if you look for it.

“The Well” comes to us from Bruce Guernsey, who taught creative writing and American literature for 25 years at Eastern Illinois University and divides his time between Charleston, Illinois, and Bethel, Maine.

Guernsey captures the quiet rhythms of speech. Lines like “The mystery of water underground” and “I drop a stone in ours to hear” sound like they could be in a poem by Robert Frost, our American master at using a line to find the music in how people talk.

There’s also darkness here. The pebble becomes “a star, falling through the night” when the well is dry. And what are those fins that “move through the dark, deep” at the end of the poem? There’s danger down in the bottom of the well, or something unnamable, or something we need to live.

The Well


By Bruce Guernsey

The mystery of water underground,

the dark stream where the dead kneel

cupping their pale hands,

splashing the stillness from their eyes.

I drop a stone in ours to hear


if there’s water for the children’s bath.

And if it’s dry, no sound—the pebble

a star, falling through the night.

Here, a rope once hung, a bucket

on its noose. Here, the cattle gathered

summer evenings at the trough,


their dull heads bowed.

No one fishes this hole, or ever did,

though in the cold, moonless pools

fins move through the dark, deep

in the ground, where spawning begins.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2012 Bruce Guernsey. First published in From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010 (Ecco Qua Press, 2012), and appears here by permission of the author.

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