Three Poems by Wesley Scott McMasters


In the summer of 1995, I watch my father shape two 

long pieces of copper into divining rods. He bends 

them at the ends with plyers, a brutal and swift act. I 

imagine these to look like toy guns. I know better than 

to say this out loud, and my father searches for water. 

He walks from one end of the driveway to the other, 

and I see the rods pull together. My father marks the 

spot on the ground to avoid when the machines come 

to dig in the following days. I ask my father about the 

rods. I need to understand what has just happened. 

This is, of course, an impossible thing to answer.

My father says he is “dowsing,” and explains to me

as best as he can. I ask him if the rods must be made 

of copper. I ask him how it works. “I’ve used sticks,

too,” he says. “I don’t know how it works. It just does.”

My father shows me one more time, and I watch the spirit 

of God flow through his calloused hands and answer him.

Divining is the act of acquiring knowledge by supernatural 

means—the rods don’t matter, as long as someone teaches 

you to hear the voice of the divine. Water witching is the

occult name for the same act, outlawed by the church, used

by our ancestors to find sources of water for their families.  

I hear the spirit of something holy speak through my father, 

pointing to water. The sound is like the one I dream of now

frequently—heard late at night, at the peak of winter, when

the snow has fallen hard, the clouds have dissipated, and the 

moon shows softly. If you are quiet then, you might hear it. 

I am grateful that whatever Appalachian witchcraft my father

inherited also flows through my veins because no matter how

often I’ve tried, the divining rods do not work for me, and I

cannot get that same spirit to work through my hands. I do not

and cannot hear God through the trees, even though late at night,

all I want is to hear the voice of someone who will never die again. 



She reaches for warm bread, 

butters it and sets it on the table, 

crumbs visible on the white cloth. 

We share a bottle of a red blend, 

something like cab sav and syrah, 

cheap and from California. 

Miles Davis plays on the record player.

She asks me to stop it. She asks me to

say grace before dinner. 

This is the first time she has asked me to pray. 

I find myself with the body and blood of Christ

in front of me and no words on my tongue. 


There is No Record of Anyone Born Blind Ever Having Schizophrenia

I still struggle to understand the holiness of a still morning

a lover helping you make the bed
putting the kettle on
grinding the coffee
buttering the bread 
cutting a strawberry

receiving a postcard from my grandmother
             she sent from her home post office

I do not understand blindness or schizophrenia

I do know 
I would not trade in these prayers 
whether I can see them
understand them
or not.

Wesley Scott McMasters writes, teaches, and lives in east Tennessee just within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains with his wife, Caroline, and their dog, Poet (who came with the name, they swear). His poetry collection is Trying to Be a Person (Words Dance, 2016).