Dorsía Smith Silva

Drowning in 5 Parts

We have always been drowning—

With sweat.
With fear.
With debt.

How much for freedom? It’s a trick question. You can never pay enough. You will always owe someone or something.

Haiti paid France $21 billion for its independence.

Puerto Rico: How much can I pay?

US: Give me your land, people, language, food, culture, and flag. Maybe then we’ll talk.

Puerto Rico: No es justo.

US: Take it or leave it.

Our dreams are free.

We run like stray horses in the mountains. No light for good luck. Who
needs it anyway? When there’s no want of stars to give us lifeblood.

Sometimes, every so often, a tourist drowns behind a hotel in Condado. The ocean reclaims what it wants. Saying here is salt. Take that back in your suitcase. How cruel. How unkind. What does it come to.


I was taught to love water. Respect it like your blood. If blood is red, then water is nucleus red. Like ATP red. 

All things comes from water. All things return to water.

Turn off the faucet. That could be your great great-grandmother there. 

Is it possible to have too much water? Ask the trees. Like during hurricanes.

We should then love and fear water. How can it be both? A kiss and knuckle? Hug and slap? Push and all pull?

You’ve seen the drowning. Rivers of trees and earth.

Repeat after me. Repeat after me.

Water is my first love.

Me: I ❤️ you.

Water: I ❤️ you too.

What comes next? 

I thought you knew.


In the end, only water remained.

But even that was dangerous.

Look at Flint. Look at Standing Rock. Look at Puerto Rico.

What would the ancestors say?

How did we end up here?

They took our land away from us—
repackaged it with manicured lawns,
but kept the pillars and the names plantation and antebellum. Some gringo names that sound good when you’re showing off to the customer service representative. I live there.
Took our bodies away from us—
rebranded as one flashy r and b star and basketball player. We can’t all be like that. Even though many of us have dancing TikTok fantasies and think we’re Dr. J’s dunking twin. Nope. Just wounded ankles and knees. 

Where are we?

It’s June. Water is coming. Let’s hope it’s not too much. We’ve been drowning since forever.


What you say about water is what you know.

How can too much water be a bad thing? 

Isn’t it like love? Having a lot of love is good?

Ask the flowers that go rootless.

Ask the worms that get plucked by birds.

Ask the slaves wa ter wat er waaaa t er.

You don’t understand. It’s answer D on the test. All of the above. 

If hurricanes could speak. Give you the 5-star treatment at the spa. Tell you the comeback story. Which everyone loves. To forget the dry run drownings.


How you treat water is how you treat your mother.

Treat it kindly, gently.
Don’t abuse it.
Don’t take it for granted. 
It is not going to stay up late and wait for you.
Don’t let it run forever.
Even water gets tired and needs a nap.
Sing to it. Be sweet. Tell it how pretty it looks on a nice day.
Bring it flowers just because. Not the $4.99 cheap ones from Walmart. Something from the garden. So water would say I recognize my work. Thank you very much.
Take it to Splash Mountain and watch how people delight when crashing in chlorinated-with-who-knows-what wetness. 
Skip the museum though. There’s no need to see children slurp fountain liquid that is the wrong color. Water would demand better—How can I look like that? Where is the filter? Shakes head.
Go to church instead. A sprinkle across a baby’s bald head. Time to save souls. Don’t ask and how did the church save you? To avoid any stink eyes and pops upside the head. Remember to respect water.

Respect water. Always remember. In the ocean, don’t forget about the undertows. Don’t swim too far. The currents. Teaching you how not to drown. To breathe. Not to drown. Respect. Respect is a motherfucker.

* Ask the slaves wa ter wat er waaaa t er is a reference to M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!


Dorsía Smith Silva is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Best of the Net nominee, Obsidian Fellow, and Full Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Her poetry is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, The Offing, The Minnesota review, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. She is also the author of Good Girl (poetry micro-chapbook), editor of Latina/Chicana Mothering, and the co-editor of six books. She has attended the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Workshop, Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop, and the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop. She has a Ph.D. in Caribbean Literature and posts at @DSmithSilva.