Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush


This is the videopoem I made for “drylung” by Clayton Michaels. It comes from his chapbook, Watermark, winner of the 2010 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest.

About a month ago, Dave Bonta and Beth Adams, co-managing editors at qarrtsiluni asked if I would be interested in doing a video for one of the poems from Watermark. They sent the manuscript, which proved to be an embarrassment of riches. I read it a few times, went back and forth with a few and settled on “drylung.”

What will the world “look like when all the water leaves?” Last Summer we were on the tail end of a two-and-a-half year drought here in central Texas. The lakes were drying up. The aquifers were emptying. Austin and San Antonio were imposing harsh water use restrictions and through all those 105°F days, there was the underlying sense that this was the future. Those in the know—politicians and policymakers, the few who try to think long term—claim that water will be the issue in Texas in the 21st century.

Parts of Lake Travis that hadn’t seen the sun in decades were exposed, and docks and boats were marooned hundreds of yards inland. Everything shriveled as the ground compacted and cracked so slowly it could almost seem normal at times.

In October, the rains came and the drought ended. We had one of the wettest, coldest winters in a long time. Memory of such things is short and so water, or the lack thereof, was soon forgotten.

What will the world “look like when all the water leaves?” Mars.

Ever since I was a kid in the ’70s in Washington, DC where the Air & Space Museum was my favorite place, Mars has fascinated me. I can scroll endlessly through the images beamed back by NASA’s rovers. Mars is beautiful and stark. It is the subject of a few of my poems, one published earlier this year at qarrtsiluni and another here at Coyote Mercury. I’m even writing a novel (slowly, too slowly) set on Mars, that world from which all the water really has left (actually, it’s possibly still there, trapped below the surface in a layer of permafrost, but I digress).

Texas and Mars collided in “drylung.” In my mind, it sounded like prophecy such as one might hear between channels on a weather radio. This summer had been (it isn’t now) unusually mild. Mid-90s and regular rain. It was easy to forget the previous year. “drylung” forced memory and took me to Mars where ancient water likely flowed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to make this video. Thanks to Beth and Dave for inviting me to do this and for their suggestions on improving the final edit. Thanks to Clayton for his wonderful poem and reading and for allowing me to interpret his work like this.

Watermark will be published August 30th. You’ll be able to read it and listen to Clayton read his poems at, and you can order it from Phoenicia Publishing. I’ve got a few of Phoenicia’s books, and they’re tip-top all the way and speaking as someone who’s had the privilege of reading Watermark, I recommend buying a copy. It’s an incredibly good read, the kind that makes me want to be a better writer.


  1. I was giddy with excitement when I saw Dave’s/Q’s FB announcement about the “trailer” — what a great idea!

    And I was mesmerized by the footage, the montage of back and forth. Felt so right. It’s terrific to read your process notes (I’m a big Mars fan, too!).

    Congratulations and bravo!

    (I look forward to getting the book.)

  2. Stunning. The video and the poem.

    Through the luck of a draw, I got to read Watermark a few weeks ago. It was one of the finest chapbooks I’ve ever read: daring, challenging, and satisfying. I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands.

  3. Excellent collaboration, the words and film work so well together

Comments are closed.

© 2018 Coyote Mercury

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: