The day the biologists came back from the Brandywine,
set their coolers on the slate table in the lab, turned on
the hooded fan, slipped on latex gloves, cleaned and set
down the knives, I was there, asking questions.
I tried to imagine the layers of tempura it would take
to make that nori black eel black, that flat color, slightly
clouded like eyes of a dead dog; or highlight each glistening,
limp and snaky fish lifted from a Coleman, set on a glass palette,
skinned and chunked like hor d’oeuvres into lab bits, so far
from their swimming in Chadd’s Ford, from whipping their way
past the painter’s studio, shocked out of the stream, thrown on ice,
sushi-cut, soon to be shipped to Harrisburg, pulverized, processed—
lipids squeezed out like paint from a tube, titanium white
dabbed with ochre, their flesh tested in a tumbler for PCBs.
That unlovely still life, perfect for the ache of February light.
For the accumulation of sorrow in the midline fat of fish,
for the bleakness of streams tainted even as they rise in the fast,
clear thaw of spring. I wondered if he wore a pale duster
streaked with umber, muddy boots, and squinted as he bent
closer to see his eels, sea-hatched, pungent with river mud,
then touched the fresh dorsal fin of the small one, tracing the S
of its spine with fingers stained the color of a March field.
Wild Pigs in New Jersey
The greens keepers don’t sleep so well these
dark summer nights. They drift off, watching golf
or reruns of North Jersey mobsters eating pork,
but their dreams always remind them that the pigs
will hit the country club while they’re in their beds—
rushing out of pitch pine to the ninth hole, attacking
the lush green like so many roter-tillers, rank
as javelinas, but huge, wire-haired and gamey,
wanting not grass but something under the grass—
roots or grubs, they think, the men who kneel
to replace puzzle pieces of sod in the morning.
Feral pigs must be searching for something pig-sweet,
they say, because they reject the idea that animals
might simply want to ruin, trample, dance a cloven
rhumba of boorish destruction, ignore the corn bait,
raid the nursery, mow down rows of forsythia saplings
just for fun, head back over the hoof-punched sandy
trail before dawn, tusks covered with bits of blossoms.
Sated, without sustenance. Musky, unrepentant raiders.
The North Shore
We are descending into Duluth in October fog, sorting
greys to separate earth from harbor, girder from crane,
grain silo from steeple through moving mist, unsure
of where snowy taconite piles end and silver water
begins. Not sure of which shadow will become bridge
or office building. My daughter has driven us north
to this ambiguous terrain, seen overlaid with the known
world—Scranton by the sea; Milwaukee meets Altoona.
A cold life defined by the flat aluminum lake, gypsum
sky, the widest horizon a painter or sailor could imagine.
She shows me the route where she ran a marathon
with a lawyer; the lakefront hotel where they once stayed. Couples come to the North Shore, she tells me over lunch, to see if it’s going to work out. We are beyond the city
at the Scenic Café, surrounded by couples. Inside
there is pale paneling, oaky wine, pistachio-crusted
walleye. Outside, sedum and fall mums, a blue bench
and pair of red Adirondack chairs pop bright against
a colorless screen: vague, indefinite clouds hang from
a huge white dome. Even this close to the lake, there’s nothing
that divides water from sky, no visual cues to guide the earnest.
Deborah Fries works in multiple genres—including poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction. Her poems and poetry reviews have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Cream City Review, North American Review, Cimmaron Review, Valparaiso Review, and Terrain.org, where she has been a contributor since 2000. Her first book of poetry, Various Modes of Departure, was published in 2004 by Kore Press, Tucson. Her second book, A Field Guide to Temporal Habitat, will also be published by Kore. She is the editor of the online publication, New Purlieu Review.