The Inverted World of the Trout
Tramping down to the trout pond
in thick humidity, I’m sure
no one has fished here all season
despite the dues they pay to stock
the little silvery pool. I kneel
at the shore and watch the trout rise,
bubbles popping where they pluck
the larvae from the surface.
The inverted world of the trout,
a shallow-flat-topped atmosphere,
surely distorts like a lens.
Perhaps fish never consider
the notion of a creator
or their fixed instinct and purpose,
but if they did their reference
would surely seem as limited
as mine. I stir the water
with a stick. The trout flash away,
then slowly return, peering
with fatal curiosity.
Even this far from the road the noise
of human neighbors penetrates.
I want to learn to breathe the water
and live with the trout in a silence
too primal for thought to betray.
Returning, I leave such clear tracks
anyone could follow the subtlest
of my gestures—a pointless sigh,
a swat of insistent mosquito,
an appeal to the bottomless sky.
A Coyote's Forepaw
The clarity of brief December
afternoon hikes to the beaver pond
flashes like glass in the sun.
Today, for example, I press
footprints into a crust of new snow,
crossing and partly erasing
tracks of deer, fox, coyote, skunk.
The woods, often logged over, look
scrawny as a cry of starvation.
No one I know has starved to death,
but every winter someone old
dies penniless and too proud to ask
the despised state government for help.
The cold numbing down from Canada
exhausts oil and wood supplies
and leaves nothing for the taxes
every town exacts in quantity.
Meanwhile the low December sun
peers through a bramble of saplings
and casts shadows so deep the tracks
open like craters of the moon.
No hunter, I rarely bother
to read the ground too closely,
but today I kneel to trace
with bare fingers the outline
of a coyote's forepaw and feel
the hunger vibrate in its bones.
Lank gray carcass of a beast:
I pity the shark-like appetite,
the ill temper that could drive it
to attack chained dogs and risk
a fatal mauling. This coyote's
alone--no tracks of a nearby mate.
Even indoors, heated, books piled high
at my elbow, I couldn't face
the early dark the way this creature
does, howling down bare starlight
with one forepaw raised, a faint
trace of my human odor
clinging to the tips of the claws.
How often I’ve pictured myself
in this pose: my paws extended,
broad sprawl of belly exposed,
muzzle upthrust in bricky air
snuffling the fragrance of seed.
My bulk anchors me so firmly
I don’t fear the whirl of earth
beneath me, don’t worry
that toppling over will dent
my sullen hide. My rich and oily
pelt is its own reward. My musk
envelops and insulates me
in a notion of selfhood nothing
can repeal. The actual bear
tips the feeder by bending a pipe
I thought unbendable. I envy
that strength, claim it for myself,
endorse and inhale it. Either
the bear fills me or I’m the bear,
the forest reaching out for me
in a brown congeries of shadings,
all that territory mine.
Yet in a moment of rage I shed
my empathy and rush outside
and warn off the vandal. The creature
I briefly became skulks away,
committing one paw then another
to the crunch of leaf-fall, a hunger
deep as my artesian well
linking us against my will.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His latest book is City of Palms (AA Press, 2012). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His fiction, essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, Worcester Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Natural Bridge.
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