My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take
anything it could wet—in a wild rush—
all the way to Mexico.
Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,
pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers
in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —
‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,
Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—
god-large, gold-green sides,
moon-white belly and breast—
making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.
The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called
‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—
our words for Milky Way.
Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet
and empty, slung over his back—
a prisoner blue and dreaming
of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth
as it gives itself away to the universe
of a sweet-milk body.
Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads
of your throat and thighs.
Copyright © 2015 by Natalie Diaz. Used with permission of the author.
Air-struck, wound-gilled, ladder
upon ladder of them thrashing
through froth, herds of us climb
the cement stair to watch
this annual plunge back to dying, spawn;
so much twisted light
the whole tank seethes in a welter of bubbles:
more like sequined
purses than fish, champagned explosions
beneath which the ever-moving
smolt fume smacks against glass, churns them up
to lake from sea level, the way,
outside, fishing boats are dropped or raised
in pressured chambers, hoses spraying
the salt-slicked undersides a cleaner clean.
Now the vessels
can return to dock. Now the fish,
in their similar chambers, rise and fall
along the weirs, smelling the place
instinct makes for them,
city’s pollutants sieved
through grates: keeping fish
where fish will spawn; changing the physics of it,
changing ours as well:
one giant world encased
with plastic rock, seaweed transplanted
in thick ribbons for schools to rest in
before they work their way up
the industrious journey: past shipyard, bus lot,
train yard, past
bear-cave, past ice-valley; past the place
my father’s father once,
as a child, had stood with crowds
and shot at them with guns
then scooped them from the river with a net, such
silvers, pinks cross-hatched with black:
now there’s protective glass
behind which gray shapes shift: change
then change again. Can you see the jaws
thickening with teeth, scales
beginning to plush themselves with blood; can you see
there is so little distinction here
between beauty, violence, utility?
The water looks like boiling sun.
A child has turned his finger into a gun.
Bang, the ladders say
as they bring up fish into too-bright air, then down again,
while the child watches the glass
revolve its shapes into a hiss of light.
Bang, the boy repeats.
His finger points and points.
From Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with the permission of the poet.