Water I Won’t Touch

Image of Water I Won’t Touch
Release Date: 
April 20, 2021
Copper Canyon Press
Reviewed by: 

Water I Won’t Touch is the call to empathy, hope, and joy that we all desperately need to hear.”

Water I Won’t Touch is a book of small miracles. Candrilli writes fervently, gently, and in a way so astoundingly unafraid of joy that the reader feels compelled to examine the presence of gratitude in their own life and ask: Why aren’t I more thankful?

Enmeshed within the memory of the author’s body, these poems insist without imposing; suggest without demanding; stand up, fall over, and right themselves again for no other reason than the incredible force of Candrilli’s will to prove to us that forest fires will always lead to rebirth, reflection, and more fertile soil.

This collection burns with a desire to be alive, to consume and to be consumed, that is unmatched in its beauty and complexity:

“The worst of my life is the rust I grow in the nail clipper, what a blessing that is. Humans want to be full of anything at all. And it might as well be affection, dandelions, or letting the boat take you, unmanned, to float wherever you’re headed.”

If the worst is the rust, then the very best of life must be the extraordinary power of love, harnessed so reverently by the author, to reveal who we are not only to our partner, but also to ourselves. Candrilli expresses how, “When I sleep with my mouth open, / my partner plants mint, and it grows.” This sentiment is found on every page of Water I Won’t Touch—the idea that the love shared between two people invents for itself a kind of holy space, a space that is ever expanding, like the universe, as an inevitable and necessary refuge that is available for a lifetime.

The most miraculous part of Candrilli’s poetry is it nearly always arrives at an unexpected end, or at an unexpected absence of one. Absence, as the title implies, is key in Water I Won’t Touch. It seems that the speakers in these poems are grieving, hopeful, and joyful about what they no longer possess just as much as they are for what they do.

“. . . Listen,

there is a razor in the apple

and the apple is the earth. Listen,

my nightmares are dreams in which

everyone walks the same direction -

that rhythmic lockstep. Both of my

grandmothers considered abortion.

Can you imagine?

Being so close to nothing.”

Here, the speaker is examining trauma passed down to them from generations before. And in the face of this, they are simply grateful to be alive. “Being so close to nothing” highlights Candrilli’s genius and linguistic ease; time and again, their word choice seems to favor examining the smallest pieces in order for the reader to witness the larger mosaic being created.

Candrilli demonstrates the mindfulness of a monk, the kind enviable in a writer and in a fellow citizen of the world. Their attunement to and appreciation of how “Even the chipped paint on the windowsill is beautiful” is what sets Water I Won’t Touch and its author apart. These poems don’t care for your acceptance or your disapproval; they do not require a filter, a dictionary, or an “expert” to weigh in on their meanings. They are just full of love.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is a poet who knows they have reached the climax of their voice, who writes without pretense or expectation. But if you read their work, you can certainly expect to be moved from tears, to happiness, to anger, and back again. Water I Won’t Touch is the call to empathy, hope, and joy that we all desperately need to hear.