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.
Catherine Coan is the author of Aviation (Blue Begonia Press, 2000). Her poems have appeared in journals including Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and The Seattle Review. She is the recipient of a NEH grant, a National Writers Union Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart nomination. She is an artist and taxidermist whose hybrid taxidermy installations show in fine galleries across the U.S. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California.