After Wallace Stevens

Evening’s first darkness—mere foreplay
for the question: who says Narcissus,
swallowing his own reflection, drowned.
Who says this act devoured the self—
what if the hunter were hunted
instead. And if he were not a man
but a woman, a woman in love
for a decade and married a mere moment
before the water reached her mouth, her lips
fluttering open, closed: a moth surprised
as the highest candle singed her—

what then. Or what if her pool was only
her bathroom mirror—no, not hers
and not just one and perhaps not even
a mirror: recall the oil-dark TV screens
and wind-blown storefront windows choked
with tulle where she saw her face anew. Tell me,
what if being there in the cool regard of glass
alone was enough. What if beholding
her own image was not fatal but fecund: violence
that turns, the split in the silk cocoon, brutal
in its birthing. You see, she used to paint
her makeup in the dark when the reproach
of mother’s compact, once upon a time,
proved too much to bear. She plastered
her girl’s face by touch alone: cheekbone,
lash line, cupid’s bow. Yes, back then

she did not know me yet. But I watch her
learn to see again, feel her touch my jaw’s drift
with her fingertips. For long ago her mother
said, put your arms around that little girl inside.
Mama, your girl is sorry. She is not little.
She is no child, but still, let her try: oh, little lover
inside me, little me inside of me, it’s so good
to see, at last, your eyelids’ crease. We dwell alone
together and are deathless—there’s no water in sight.


Caitlin Cowan's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Entropy, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Boxcar Poetry Review, The Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Best New Poets anthology series and a semifinalist for the Ahsahta Press Sawtooth Book Prize, she has won the Mississippi Review Prize, the Ron McFarland Prize for Poetry, an Avery Hopwood Award, and has been a participant at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. She holds degrees from the University of Michigan, The New School, and The University of North Texas, where she is currently a lecturer in the Department of English. She writes reviews and interviews for Pleiades, The American Literary Review, and American Microreviews and Interviews. She lives in Denton, Texas. You can find her at