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.
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.