Pray tell, how do you do it? How shake
Loose the shackles of lowly carphood
And lift without rising from the bottom
Transformed, sudden pond royalty
Doted upon with handfuls of fish chow
And dim admiration here at the public
Gardens, a regal orange that would
Never survive in the long-lost wild,
The trailing sheepish sweeping tail
And overwrought fins, inbred for court
With bulbous eyes rampant as jewels,
Escaping the bland camouflage brown
From which your race was spawned,
Poor-colored, mottled to hide among
Clotted leaves, left alone to graze
Through cast-off cloud reflections
And rotted bits of murk and marl
Sifting through the garbage of salvation
Elevated here to true sainthood, crazy
Overblown goldfish, shingle-sided
And thus scaled for eternity,
My fish, my people, my carp.
Steelhead at Lenore, Idaho
A hen, spawned out, all of forty inches
dying for months now, her adipose fin
intact, wild fish bearing a lucid stripe
of sunburst red from tail to gaping chin,
sea-running rainbow trout come clear up
the Columbia, past the Snake’s dams,
now twenty miles up the Clearwater
holding in a back channel just off the bank,
rotting fish trailing pale epaulets of flesh,
forehead battered, eyes gone stony gray
adrift where bear and cougar hunt the night.
Upriver, two men fish from the bridge.
She’s spent, stone blind, but sweeps out midstream
at the quiver of my step on shore.
When they first tumbled from the grass to drop
face-first into the creek behind my house
they were nine and I knew the coyotes
would likely pick off a couple of those
golden fuzzball Charlie Chaplins stumbling
until the miraculous splash that spared them
as forever graceful: nine goslings
under the hard beak of a parent
already in the stream, sweeping them all
back to shore with the shove of a wing.
Two days later, seven, swimming strong,
and now, a week in, the remaining four
work their way up the evening creek, driving
against the current, against the other five.
View poetry by Dennis Held previously appearing in Terrain.org.
Poem recordings made possible by KPBX, Spokane Public Radio.
Illustration of Chinese koi courtesy Shutterstock.