The soles of my feet love
the warm pine floor of your cabin
and you’ve left cold milk,
the syrupy smoke of dark-
roast beans, a window open
where the swelling sky, peaked
and hesitant with rain,
lights a glass bowl: minnows
who survived the bucket home,
darting, one night older. Miraculous,
alive, their delicate green lines
betray miniature fillets—too small
for pine nuts and wine, tougher
than tap water, this brilliant
captivity. Isn’t it what
I’ve wanted, my whole life?
— the salmon ladders, Ballard, Washington
The Coho and steelhead are ghosts
five feet from the glass, visible only
for their difference from water, not much
to begin with, and less here
than in some clear and magnifying valley lake.
Exhausted muscle, grey veils in the repeating
turbulence of green—a million bubbles,
trim as mercury, spin and sweep downstream.
Remember Wonder Woman’s plane,
invisible but marked by a thin white line?
Her boots tilted at the pedals
and her hair stayed in place as the wind roared by.
From below, the citizens could see her, exposed
blue and gold against the cirrus clouds
as she streaked off to an adventure.
Her hands were clenched around the crystal throttle.
I have been at the window an hour
when finally a silver leaps, the pilot in her brain
sick of holding, brave with death.
Her tail fin blinks
into the top weir’s crash and she is gone.
I run to the surface, look down—nothing
but jets and walls. She gathers somewhere near
against a root-gripped bank.
Some things don’t want to be seen.
There is a pool in me with shadows at the edge.
Most of the fish, whiskers drifting, stay still
at the center. Two or three dart always into the dark.
Sometimes it is winter, and I help.
With a sharp stick I carve
something bold into the ice, let it lie
over where they sleep with open eyes.
Two Birds with One Stone
It’s been flapping in my mind all day
like a plastic bag stuck on a chain-link fence:
Are the two birds perched conveniently
on a branch at eye level?
Are they flying adjacent in a flock’s deep V?
Is the first bird knocked out like a shiny six
by the cue ball of the stone?
Does it take the other’s eleven on the way,
a sickening click, then they roll together
toward a pocket on a felt-green lawn?
Why not an arrow, or even a sharp stick?
Who has such improbable aim?
If it’s a slingshot, if this guy is such a pro,
how about a stone for each bird?
It’s not like there’s ever been a stone shortage.
Or: The stone is a boulder pushed off a cliff
onto a couple of dopey ground-nesters.
Then how does the hunter get his dinner out
from under his device? Maybe this is a grudge.
Maybe these birds blinded his poor mother
for something she didn’t do in a snowy field.
Anyway, why is killing two brothers of the sky
so blithely, with such a strange weapon,
a model of efficiency? I want to shoot
for a bit more presence: Every task a blessing
to the end, then death by sleep
after a glass of wine, a last soliloquy, a little song.
The Loyalty of Western Horses
They are all dead now, the stallions from Stagecoach
and Shane, the mares and geldings of High Noon.
The painted Indian ponies, dappled Appaloosas, have gone
the way of the setting sun, behind the cool hills
and into the dusty yonder. How bravely they once plunged
into rivers of unknown depth, emerging to lope miles
in wet leather, sweat lathering their withers and flanks.
Which of us in a gunfight, were we of such hot blood,
could stand so still as bullets grazed the hairs of his ears?
Gut-shot, chest-shot, they fell, a neck-long last snort
for the cowboys who loved them. Even the hangman’s roan
never balked at his duty: A saddle heavy with sin
or trouble, then the spank and hee-yaw, the lunge,
the load lightened, the horseless rider running on sky.
Abstract image of fish viewed through a window courtesy Shutterstock.