Ballard Locks

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.


unveil themselves in dark.
They hang, each a jagged,

silken sleeve, from moonlit rafters bright
as polished knives. They swim

the muddled air and keen
like supersonic babies, the sound

we imagine empty wombs might make
in women who can’t fill them up.

A clasp, a scratch, a sigh.
They drink fruit dry.

And wheel, against feverish light flung hard
upon their faces,

in circles that nauseate.
Imagine one at breast or neck,

Patterning a name in driblets of iodine
that spatter your skin stars.

They flutter, shake like mystics.
They materialize. Revelatory

as a stranger’s underthings found tossed
upon the marital bed, you tremble

even at the thought. Asleep,
you tear your fingers

and search the sheets all night.


How horrible it is, how horrible
that Cronenberg film where Goldblum's trapped

with a fly inside his Material
Transformer: bits of the man emerging

gooey, many-eyed; bits of the fly
worrying that his agent's screwed him–

I almost flinch to see the body later
that's left its fly in the corner, I mean

the fly that's left its body, recalling too
that medieval nightmare, Resurrection,

in which each soul must scurry
to rejoin the plush interiors of its flesh,

pushing through, marrying indiscriminately
because Heaven won't take what's only half:

one soul blurring forever
into another body.

If we can't know the boundaries between ourselves
in life, what will they be in death,

corrupted steadily by maggot,
rain or superstition, by affection

that depends on memory to survive?
People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger's waistline, joint

problems or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

Self-Portrait as Mae West One-Liner

I'm no moaning bluet, mountable
linnet, mumbling nun. I'm
tangible, I'm gin. Able to molt
in toto, to limn. I'm blame and angle, I'm
lumbago, an oblate mug gone notable,
not glum. I'm a tabu tuba mogul, I'm motile,
I'm nimble. No gab ennui, no bagel bun-boat: I'm one
big mega-ton bolt able to bail
men out. Gluten iamb. Male bong unit.
I'm a genial bum, mental obi, genital
montage. I'm Agent Limbo, my blunt bio
an amulet, an enigma. Omit elan. Omit bingo.
Alien mangle, I'm glib lingo. Untangle me,
tangelo. But I'm no angel.