Who are the men and women who deny
the damage, who say the earth, the sky,
the waters are beyond our powers?
I have seen brownies in the Rockies
swimming in circles like hounds by the fire
or a sycophant polishing a lie
for profit or the cold thrill of mischief.
The parasite behind the whirling disease
savages cartilage and skeletal
tissue in fish, dazes, bewilders
akin to senility, twisted circuits.
The victims can no longer feed
efficiently and make easy prey. Now
afflicted specimens have been witnessed
near Foscoe and on the old Watauga,
the rainbow trout likely to infect
brookies, and our own shameless species
spreads the damage, sportsmen dispersing
the lethal cells on their waders and flies,
for we are never so clean as we claim,
especially when we swear no harm
comes to the earth from our passage.
In a pool downstream of the Maury’s bend,
I once saw a young trout curling round,
spores on his scales, fins torn, the shimmer
of his glamor giving way to shadow,
and with all my stealth I edged closer,
parted weeds and reached into reflections,
fingers spread, easing till my hands were
beneath him, then crossed creel-wise
that I might lift him from confusion,
his worst dream, and leave him to swim
deftly downstream with the current
and his own kind. Now it’s clear he could not
be rescued, and I shiver at the thought
of those who claim nature immune
to our meddling. Glassy-eyed with greedy
smiles, they spin. May the waters close over
them, may they choke on their empty
victories, may the snelled hook still
glistening and with no mercy catch deadly
in their throats, ripping at every syllable,
delivering, justly, mischief’s cold thrill.
R. T. Smith edits Shenandoah for Washington and Lee University, where he also serves as Writer-in-Residence. His sixth book of stories, Doves in Flight, will be out early in 2017, and his 14th book of poems, Summoning Shades, is due later in the year. Smith has work forthcoming in Five Points, Southern Review, and Southern Humanities Review. He lives on Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County, Virginia.