Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Twenty Six » from THE WATER GLASS


Hanne Bramness


Two words haunt this magical, surreal sequence: gjennomsiktig (transparent / translucent) and romklang (resonance / reverberation). Hanne Bramness tells me in an email about the poem’s origins that ‘the water glass [is] a prism through which both the past and the beyond (perhaps) can be seen,’ a way of  working through ‘the idea of sounds that influence us although they are beyond [our] reach, [the idea] that water waves can transport sounds both detectable and undetectable.’ Activated by lys (light) and lyd (sound), the water glass sparkles, ripples, murmurs, glimmers, sends signals across time and space. It constrains and transmits, reflects and transforms. As prism, it throws light back and forth, twists and bounces it, refracts light and images as well as reflecting them. In other words, the water glass is a poem-object. The art of glass-making ‘is somehow present, too,’ Bramness says, when the ‘heat of thought’ acts by chance on the poem, offering the possibility of ‘mak[ing] something non-transparent transparent.’ One inspiration was Czech photographer Josef Sudek:  ‘the sight of a plain glass of water by a sickbed led me to think about Sudek’s brilliant images [which] . . . in the way they capture the light, suggest something beyond.’ And ‘water is life-giving,’ Bramness reminds us, ‘entwined in so many ways with our lives, birth and death, brevity and eternity.’ The skin of the glass, the words of the poem, hold inner and outer, limits and boundlessness in shining and delicate balance.


Anna Reckin

The water glass stands close against the wall of time; it brings voices

over. Every sound here seems to carry. What are they doing over there

on the other side, which century are they speaking from? Sound waves

brought together in a confined space become words, are lifted out

of history, pushed over the rim and onto a bedside table,

where the voices glide across the surface of the water, are amplified

and reach the bed.




In the small hours, in the light from the rain, the glass carries on speaking from

its place on the bedside table, transmitting reverberations from a lost era.

The sounds flow unevenly, like voices from a boat on a still lake. Sleep is

shattered by the clatter of cutlery, washing sounds, a child crying,

whistling, conversation, all continually interrupted by a low, persuasive voice

– as if there is always a frequency for war.




We are out rowing, gliding further with each stroke, approaching

the unseen edge of the glass. Bubbles rising up from below, the echo of

waves beating back, reverberations, all these can be heard through

the strokes of the oars, the beat of our hearts. As the sounds fade away,

we come closer.




The water glass stands by the open window, reflecting the scene

from inside the room and projecting it out into the darkness of the

late-summer night, where it plays out on the neighbour’s wall, upside

down. She is up above him, with the bed on her back, and he

carries both her and the bed while floating, back curved.

They are shown exactly as they are: swimmers in air.




You shouldn’t sleep in the same room as the washing,

currents of cool, sweet-smelling air will make their way into your throat

in great gulps, until your breath starts to chirp like a fledgling.

Nor should you have a glass of water near where you sleep;

you used to live in houses where damp would seep into dreams

and ice patterns bloom on inside walls, taking the shape

of a familiar face. You would wake up exhausted.




The rain gets heavier. Heard through shallow sleep

it sounds as though the storm is moving in closer.

Suddenly a window is flung open to the night

and on the surface of the forgotten glass of water on the sill

raindrops dance as if across a restless lake.

For one brief, half-waking moment, the soundscape reveals

the answer we thirst for.




The glass of water on the table comes to stand for

the soundless sea between us: whatever is silent and impenetrable in

the middle of a conversation, a conversation which

goes round and round in circles, making the water tremble. 

Words were mostly pointless because they were used to hide

things, but suddenly one cuts through, skimming across

the surface and striking home.




It was a lantern for lost souls in the winter night,

this water glass with its base frozen solid, its perfect crystals

shining silently on the windowsill, keeping its secret

close. But when you lift the glass and warm it up,

it starts to hum at your touch.                                                                     




If you are pouring water into a glass that you are holding, the movement

draws your hand towards it. You have to balance, find your sea-legs, as it were,

line up the glass, listen out. You can hear that it is full before

it spills over. All our senses are involved in this, each operating

within its own narrow range. But the measure of who we truly are

is how we hand out water to those who are thirsty.




I see the glass in your hand; you are turning it around,

not studying it, but tracing your finger along its rim: the index

finger, the second finger. You track the glass out of the corner of your eye

as you lift it to your mouth, following the glass-shadow

below the curve of your cheek, and a ray of light breaks against

your lips. Only when your breath

fills the glass does it ring. 

I am that glass.




By a forgotten railway-line stands the station from your dreams,

newly lime-washed, so blindingly white in the sunlight it

instantly turns black. To begin with, you can’t make out

anything inside, but spots of light reflected back

from a water glass on the counter meet the inner eye

and spell out a message, the answer to the enigma of

a necessary separation.




One day there is frost around the rim of the glass, in a

shining ring. The light of the ring pierces the morning

darkness, translucent as the mornings are now –

now they are no longer in plentiful supply. Will the glass

break in the grip of the cold, or only

when the soft spring air runs over it?




The moon slipped in, and its gentle rays stroked

his sleeping cheek, ran swiftly, lightly over his neck and his supple

shoulders, wound themselves through the locks of

his hair, blazed over his upper lip, sent shivers

down his spine, and sought out the

half-full glass of water on the chest of drawers

– from which they would never escape.




You’re back at your old house, all in the dark, breathing in

the spring night air. The house on the hill: you still walk around in there!

Dancing on the edge of sleep with a shining water glass

in your hand, visible through the wall. You are on your way

up the stairs to the crying child, not noticing

how time spills out with every step you take.




Feel the pressure of the ripples in the water-

glass vibrating against your lips before straightening out.

Hear how the sound, carried even faster

than through air, is silenced, contained.

There, it is over. A door shut

with a resounding slam. It’s done,

the space has been cleared, brought up

into the light, transformed into pain. Take a gulp of pain.




The earth tugs at where it’s anchored

by the moonbeams in the water glass,

travels on to a new day, is tossed into space

while the glass remains standing, toppling

on the edge of time. And only those who won’t ever die

or those who are on the point of death, will get to see

whether at the last moment the glass finds its balance or

completely vanishes.




Entering the dark waiting-room of some station somewhere or other­, and finding

a glass standing there, which, in that unaccustomed heat, seems either

the answer to a prayer for water, or a vision of a shining presence.  I think


I have been here before, at this chalk-white station, under the glare of an insatiable

sun.  I have a sense that it was I who placed the glass here like this, so it would dry up, like a creek in the desert. Such a calculating thing for me to do, leaving it like


that, with the shadow of a ring remaining around the rim to fool those who

are thirsty. Every so often I land up here, at this station from my dreams, along

with those I love, ­this place where people part from one another.

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