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Ballard Locks

ISSUE:  Spring 2010

Air-struck, wound-gilled, ladder
upon ladder of them thrashing
through froth, herds of us climb
the cement stair to watch
this annual plunge back to dying, spawn;
so much twisted light
the whole tank seethes in a welter of bubbles:
more like sequined
purses than fish, champagned explosions
beneath which the ever-moving
smolt fume smacks against glass, churns them up
to lake from sea level, the way,
outside, fishing boats are dropped or raised
in pressured chambers, hoses spraying
the salt-slicked undersides a cleaner clean.
Now the vessels
can return to dock. Now the fish,
in their similar chambers, rise and fall
along the weirs, smelling the place
instinct makes for them,
city’s pollutants sieved
through grates: keeping fish
where fish will spawn, but changing the physics of it,
changing ours as well:
one giant world encased
with plastic rock, seaweed transplanted
in thick ribbons for schools to rest in
before they work their way up
the industrious journey: past
shipyard, skyline, playground;
past bear-cave, past ice-valley; past the place
my father’s father would,
as a child, have stood with crowds
and shot at them with guns
then scooped them from the river with a net, such
silvers, pinks cross-hatched in black:
now there’s protective glass
behind which gray shapes shift: change
then change again. Can you see the jaws
thickening with teeth, scales
beginning to plush themselves with blood; can you see
there is so little distinction here
between beauty, violence, utility?
The water looks like boiling sun.
A child has turned his finger into a gun.
Bang, the ladders say
as they bring up fish into too-bright air, then down again,
while the child watches the glass
revolve its shapes into a hiss of light.
Bang, the boy repeats.
His finger points and points.


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