My grandfather went on his moped to the factory, two hours travel each way.
The rest of the days he fished in the woods.
The fishing rods and the nets he tied to the moped.

When I was old enough, he took me.
We rode with our legs out in the air on the bags.
We fished for eel.

Boiled water out of the creek for coffee, tea, and soup.
If we didn’t catch anything, we had nothing.
At night, when we lay to sleep, the world changed.

It talks to you.
You hear. You smell.
When the water goes down, the ground has a scent.

Small bodies walking through the open tent,
over the sleeping bag,
then, at a certain hour, it’s quiet.

In the morning, but some time before the sun, a bird would sing,
then another. They all move to the highest branch.
They make a chorus. Locating one another.

A leaf sways in the first light.
Many leaves, suspended, without contracting a single muscle.
They are like birds.

I was happy. I had survived. I was young.

Purgatorio

Come to the surface of the screen with your piscine light 
and oxygen holes and press for moments 
against the page—as if seeking to pass through it.

Make with the trunk of your body the third letter— 
in a motion move the ends of your face and caudal fin
each to your right, toward each other — C. 

Toward the third hour on your axis—
and in the same motion sweep your trunk back, 
tail beat pushing through the ninth hour, moving you 

headfirst in the new direction and off the screen—
this movement follow with movement of more bodies,
simultaneous, unselfconscious, aggregate—

choral, co-created, a gathering
of you in the mind—oscillate behind the screen like a wheel 
of bodies, a promenade—it we you he she— 

move through the water column, skins of bodies, 
similar, discreet—company, crowd, collection, 
shoal and plural movement of consciousness.

Setting and set by the turbid water in motion, 
the new law of movement. Dissolution
and coming into being. Appear as lights

and images on the screen, your voices faded
to an inaudible and drawn-out O!
meaning here is the place we asked for!

Related Poems

Ontario

Beauty in its winter slippers
approached us by degrees
on the gravel path. We were
hitching a ride out; had been hitching.
Our suitcase freighted with a few
gardening tools lifted from the shed
while the old man, old enough,
looked away. He who
went fishing at night (so he said)
carrying in his pail
a nest of tiny flame.

We were headed, headed out, we
were going in a direction.
No tricks
or intrigue, just a noisy
ineptness.

If that’s a word. Beauty, dipped
in resin beneath its shag,
was always ready with the right
curse to recite to
our nature. It is
in us, it is,
in the smokehouse in the woods and the old man
looked away. Song of
experience.

There were treads in the snow.
We waited for our hitch.
There were train tracks which
stung with clods of this region’s
rare clay.

We were boys, boyish, almost girls.
Left alone on the roof, we would have dwindled.
Incrimination called to us
from the city and its fog-blacked lake,

called to us from the salvaged farms beyond the lake,
from the wilds beyond that.
Guilty was good.

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.

Debris

   Storms are generous.
                                      Something so easy to surrender to, sitting by the window,
 and then you step out into the garden you were so bored of,
                 so bored of you hated it,
                                             but now it needs you.

                          Twang of the rake’s metal tines biting at the dirt.
   You destroy a little camp of mushrooms,
                                                                   pull leaves into a pile,
                                                                              are struck with wonder
                                                                   when there rolls out
                                                                                              a little bird’s nest—
                                                                                                 the garden’s
brain.

    You want to hide in it.
                               Twigs, mud, spit, and woven in:
a magenta strip of Mylar balloon that glints when turned to the sun,
                                                                                        a sway of color you’ve seen before. 

                 You were a boy.
   You told your grandfather you spotted a snake in the yard between the buckeyes.
He revved his weed whacker,
                                         walked over,
            conjured a rose mist from the grass
                                                            that swelled in the breeze, swirled together, grew dark,
                                                                        shifting through fans of sun,

                                                                                                            magenta, then plum,
blush,
               gone. 

Smell of exhaust. Tannins of iced tea
                                                            you drank together on the porch later,
                                                                                          his spiked with Wild Turkey,

                                                            the tumbler resting on his thigh,
                                    the ice-sweat running off, smearing the dried snake juice,
                                                                                          pooling in a divot of scar tissue.

       A souvenir, he called it,
from the winter spent sleeping in a hole in the ground in a Belgian wood,
                                                                               listening for German voices to start singing
                                                                                                   so he knew he could sleep.