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.

From Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Paisley Rekdal. Used with the permission of the poet.