In the world underwater, in that world beyond this world near the cattails where bass patrol their spawning beds, early summer light clings to the turquoise sides of pumpkinseed sunfish, so named because of the shape their bodies take, not the coloration of their ctenoid scales, tangerine stippling that stony blue, giving way to a yellow that seeps to the base of the pelvic fin, an aquatic canvas as if painted by that artist who cut away his own ear out of love, leaving a blackened hole the sounds of his joyous screams rushed into, a coal-dark flap like the one at the side of this fish’s face who shows me that the world is always receding, fleeing the shape of my shadow as I walk these banks.
And these deer at my bramble gate: so close here, we touch our own kind in each other. — Tu Fu (712-770)
Near the railroad tracks poachers
have stacked the bodies of seven
headless deer, stuffed sacks
of flesh to waste. Someone has dumped
a horse head, too. I can’t imagine
why, or what was done with a body
of such heft. Hair stripped, the hum
of bluebottle flies pervades the rotting
air. I note the lips are lost as well
to bacteria and beetles that crave the flesh.
Large teeth protrude like a piano’s
keyboard, bringing back the song I sang
this past spring while planting the corn
and squash I knew the deer would eat.
Canticle for Native Brook Trout
Now we are all sitting here strangely On top of the sunlight. — James Wright, “A Winter Daybreak above Vence”
Fishing the narrow stream of light, we follow a seam between hemlock and sweating rhododendron, tulip poplar and white oak that grow more than a hundred feet in the air. The small fish that have been here for thousands of years lay in on the flat rock that lines the streambed, or hide beneath the shelves where water pours over fallen trees. They are nearly invisible, backs colored like the stone in the pool where they were born and where they will die after giving birth to their own. The drift of our flies tempts them, and through the glass surface we see their jaws part, predatory surge ending with a struggle to be freed from the end of our lines. Their lives depend upon the coldness of water, upon our desire to touch their bodies, to marvel at the skin along their spines: the tan worm-shaped ovals, the smallest red circles, the splash of yellow and orange that washes around their bellies as we release them and they swim from our grasp back into a sliver of sunlight.