Like Water Flowing by April Bradley
Over two thousand years ago, Sappho famously characterized Love as “irresistible” and “bittersweet” (fragment 130). In her lyric nonfiction flash “Like Water Flowing,” April Bradley combines the sweet and the bitter—the rush and pleasure of erotic love in a developing relationship and the accumulation of life’s everyday problems at a particular moment in history. Bradley explains in her author’s note that “the draft veered away from passion toward wearying and quotidian concerns—the unrelenting pressure of the pandemic, our mutual and divergent pasts, what we each bring to a new, second marriage, the noise and distractions of other people, parenting under tremendous stress.” Desire and obstacles mingle in a lyrical, breathless, run-on prose style—each section one long, present-tense sentence—punctuated by quotations from Sappho, which Bradley in her author’s note calls the “scaffolding” of the piece.
In an earlier draft, Bradley quoted Jim Powell’s translation of fragment 46 (“I will let my body / flow like water over the softest cushions”). While Philip Freeman and Anne Carson and others do not include an image of water in their translations of that fragment, Powell’s simile flows like a hidden undercurrent beneath Bradley’s title and fluid prose. Literal images of water run through the flash—the Long Island Sound where she and her husband fall in love, her memories of that water during the difficulties they face after they’ve married, the water he leaves running in their kitchen in the last section. The concluding image is both bitter and sweet, containing both the physical destruction caused by an overflowing sink and the pleasurable memory of lovemaking revived by physical traces the water left on the floor. —CRAFT
You came and I was longing for you
You cooled my heart burning with desire.
— Sappho, fr. 48
The days run together now Monday is a Wednesday is a Saturday is a Thursday and most days I have no idea when it is I have to stop and think about it and people ask through their masks howlonghaveyoubeenmarried because we still hold hands in public but the world falls away and we are at the market and he’s asking me if I want avocados or wasabi almonds or popsicles or chocolate infused with chilies because he’s thoughtful and gentle although not too gentle and I’m this savage thing burning craving walkingstalking him in a food store studying the elegant shape of his hand in mine his wrist illuminated by the glare of the warehouse lighting and I’m rememberingimagining what that hand does to me feel the shimmer of his index finger down my spine the shine of the waxed floor glowing and he touches me inside as the security system rings in my ears cash registers beep and his eyelids flutter his skin tastes salty here and here and smells like sandalwood and jasmine and I want to devour him like a peach like a woman and he looks at me and I say yeah, sure, almonds.
When I look at you even for a moment
I can no longer speak.
My tongue fails and a subtle
Fire races beneath my skin …
— Sappho, fr. 31
Some days it feels like decades as if we never stepped away from bathing in the sunshine on Sunday mornings in summer when we spread the Book Review all over the bed pages drifting onto the floor as we finished reading and started with one another spilling coffee spilling ink gaspinglaughing into our newly tattooed skin all this radiance and then we meet up again twenty-two years later by Long Island Sound the sea flowing words burning I didn’t know what it was like to walk around in a haze of desire forgetting where I was to stop still in a room in the pharmacy in the street on stairways in the kitchen while cooking dinner and wonder why am I here what am I doing I can’t think I can’t breathe but for him his mouth tastes like apples his body fits so well with mine the surging a relief the heat his sweat like tears.
It is not right in the house of those serving the Muses
for there to be lamenting. That would not be fitting for us.
— Sappho, fr. 150
Now it’s his kids here mine far away at school his ex-wife my ex-husband our sisters his parents our ex-in-laws holidays without family two home offices homeschooling two kids as we try to plan a dozen years ahead with this pandemic and global warming in mind wake the kids feed the kids teach the kids entertain the kids charm the kids delight the kids validate the kids cook for the kids clean up after the kids support the kids attend doctor appointments school meetings familygrouptherapy and everyone has an opinion don’t alienate the kids you need a sense of humor you are too strict you are too critical you are too judgmental you are too permissive you are too forgiving you are irrational you are too religious you are not religious enough you talk wrong say it like this like this no like this you are not their mother this is not what I signed up for and so I try to remember the water always flowing around us like the periwinkle blue tile of the bathroom we steal away to in the middle of the day I watch him climax and think please don’t fuck me so hard that I smash my head into the mirror or how he reaches for me at night how we hold hands in our sleep and he says IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou says my name like a blessing like a star like a wish and I wonder if he understands how difficult it is.
Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble,
that bittersweet, irresistible creature.
— Sappho, fr. 130
I’m writing when he strides into the bedroom to ask me a question then interrupts himself to kiss me and we fall into eiderdown and quilts made by his mother and my great-grandmother then undress one another just enough as he kisses my breasts and he doesn’t recall and I am unaware that he’s left the water running in the kitchen that he was washing dishes and as he reaches down between my legs to feel me slickwetswollen he tells me I am so luscious and to taste myself he traces my lips like he’s applying gloss the sink fills with water and lavender soap when he turns me over onto my belly as we slide into one another the water flows over the sink and he flows and flows into me our hands entwined my engraved ring rings against his grasping the maple headboard the water flows onto the oak flooring floods the kitchen all I hear is the roar of water our pleasure the water flows toward the stairs and later when the floor’s dry he says it’s ruined but the wood cups my feet and when I walk barefooted I trace a rond de jambe along the raised edges that remind me of his pelvic bone of his clavicle and I smile at that floor where I have bruised my knees gladly.
Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet. Trans. Philip Freeman. New York: W.W. Norton, 2017. Quotations used by permission of the translator.
APRIL BRADLEY is a Durham, North Carolina-based writer and editor. Her work appears in such publications as CHEAP POP, JMWW, Heavy Feather Review, Narratively, New Flash Fiction Review, and South Florida Poetry Journal. She is the publisher and editor of Ruby and serves as an associate editor for fiction at Pidgeonholes and as a submissions editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. April is a Best American Essays, Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions nominee and a graduate of Yale Divinity School. Find her on Twitter @april_bradley.
Featured image by Kellie Shepherd Moeller courtesy of Unsplash