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Daniel Waters

Dan Waters: Photo by Ralph Stewart

Daniel Waters is an American poet who was born in New Jersey, grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University, and has been a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard since 1977, where he has sold shoes, operated printing presses, and volunteered as a tutor with the Martha's Vineyard Literacy Program. He has also mentored at the local charter school, chaired the Martha's Vineyard Cultural Council, and earned a black belt in Aikido, a Japanese martial art.

Waters' first poems were published in the Vineyard Gazette in 1982, where they became a long-running weekly feature for more than twenty years, signed solely with his initials, D.A.W. In 1986, he and his partner Hal Garneau started the Indian Hill Press ( He currently makes his living as a printmaker.

In addition to many other publications, his poetry has appeared monthly in Yankee magazine since 1996, and can be heard daily on WCAI, the Cape and Islands' NPR station. His collection "Needing Winter" was the 2005 winner of the Westmeadow Press Chapbook Contest, and his sonnet "Jellyfish" won first prize in the 2006 Newburyport Art Association Poetry Contest.

In 2006, the West Tisbury selectmen officially designated Dan Waters as the town's first poet laureate. West Tisbury, sometimes called "the Athens of Martha's Vineyard," is the first town on the Island -- and only the second town in Massachusetts -- to designate such a person.


A hemisphere gelatinous and clear,
it quivers here between reproach and shame
like something from a dream, without a name,
receding waves to grieve its brief career.
This tender slice of optics magnifies
the sand it dies on as the tide's repealed,
apparent yet transparently concealed:
all metaphor, a vitreous disguise.

Beachcombers interpret what they've found,
this crystal parachute, this contact lens,
this breast implant whose milkless mound offends
the children smearing it into the ground
as punishment for gleaming like a jewel
and yet for being nothing like a jewel.

First prize winner of the 2006 Newburyport Art Association Poetry Contest

Poem in Mid-Winter

Today is thirty-eight degrees,
too cold to swim, too warm to freeze.
It's not a Sunday, not a snow day,
just a Wonder Bread John Doe day.
Mother Nature must have slipped
to make a day so nondescript
that if today had robbed a bank
the Wanted posters would be blank.

Fred Fisher's cows, who know no rush,
whose job is chewing hay to mush,
morosely arch their bovine brows
at one more day of being cows.
The ocean spreads a foamy hand
consolingly across the sand
to reassure the ageless bride
he wakened one more day beside.

A wedding held this afternoon
deserves some extra honeymoon.
The babies born will not be kings
but scallopers, and humbler things.
Today no wars will be begun,
no major lawsuits filed or won;
A Chilmark woman may, instead,
decide to bake banana bread.

At dusk, morticians tiptoe in
to tag this day: No next of kin;
a day discarded, used and tossed,
a scratch-and-win piece, scratched and lost.
By sundown this is all one sees,
though poets past were known to squeeze
a masterpiece from days like these.
Tonight is thirty-eight degrees.

From Needing Winter, Westmeadow Press, 2005; published in First Things

Looking Down

There is a mute abandon in the prim,
and music in the silence of relief.
There is refreshment in the grey and grim,
and peace in the unravelling of grief.
There comes an appetite before a feast
that some would label hunger out of fear
but laughter, too, sleeps half the day at least
and trees are gladly leafless half the year.
You ask why poets pick depression's bones
when lilacs beckon to be picked instead;
why downcast choirs moan of mud and stones
when half the heavens shimmer overhead.
There lives some voice within us that seems made
to praise the sun by singing of its shade.

From Needing Winter, Westmeadow Press, 2005; published in First Things

Changes of State

Fortune bragged about is envy born;
Misery means well-meant comfort spurned;
Loneliness confessed seems twice forlorn;
Love declared demands its love returned.

Impression spoken is opinion cast;
Opinion is a guest who overstays;
Half-compliments are insults at half-mast;
Loud praise of God by name is sly self-praise.

Most endearments are most unendearing;
Pleasure retold echoes like a boast;
Pain expressed hurts everyone in hearing;
Speechlessness becomes a legend most.

Look words in the eye, but leave all questions
unaddressed. These words are mere suggestions.

From Needing Winter, Westmeadow Press, 2005


This one writes and that one draws;
plant them once the soil thaws.
Dancing, painting, acting, art;
space them half an inch apart.
Striving hard to sketch or sing,
most will not survive the spring.
If too many of them sprout,
prudence dictates, pinch them out.

Disappointment and dismay
educate us every day,
slugs and cutworms in the garden
teaching human hearts to harden.
Flowering is a poor career --
so the crows of wisdom sneer,
futile scarecrows on their crosses
witnessing our yearly losses.

Since before the Shroud of Turin,
we've applied coyote urine
hoping to repel the deer
that ruin gardens every year.
We've learned this at tremendous cost:
nothing fragile, nothing lost --
perspective gloomy humans bring
while pissing on their dreams each spring.

From Needing Winter, Westmeadow Press, 2005; published in First Things

Indian Hill Road

Some swooning springtime day when sonnets write
themselves, no need for ink, and Indian Hill
is pink with infant oak leaves, and the bright-
voiced catbird, wren and cardinal distill
the sweetest memories from a sweeter time --
when sweetpea shoots and honeysuckle vines
and clematis continue last year's climb
up this year's clothesline poles and highway signs --
we'll walk this road as if we'd only met
(while May gives color to what April sketched)
and this time -- This time we will not forget
how autumn seemed impossibly far-fetched
and how the swallows filled the twilit sky
with wheeling arrowheads as we passed by.

From Needing Winter, Westmeadow Press, 2005; published in First Things

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