Paul McCormick



Most places exist only when you think about them
the wind shapes a school of fish from loose sand
since they can only breathe in shadows they prefer
the late afternoon once I found a stray trying to catch
its breath at the edge of the desert when I knelt down
she said sagebrush and that her cousins were glittering
beyond where we could see each one held a coin in
its mouth and prayed I had wanted to move my family
out here but every mechanic wore a different color
bandana and the hoods were kept open until I could
no longer tell who was man and who was fish



On the porch was a hammock that finally gave way
to the leaves and snow and a haddock chime hung
from the eaves it had the exact same sound as those
in Booth Bay they say but what really kept me out
here most of the year were the veins that ran up and
down the trunk of an oak they made me think of gold
mines and maps and tracks and sad hearts of buffalo
the whole idea was that I couldn't pin it down but that
oak was a sapling when Whitman was here I'm sure
he must have seen it tonight someone realized that kites
must be let go that's what the string is all about and
the relationship between brandish and brown is now
understood to be a dusting of jackets or Walt's preference
for blue to have some silver it was the hammock that
left an impression and the wind can sing three notes
yes my favorite smile is when I see the kites alone



When the bow had cleared the mouth of the canal
the fishermen began to paint their faces over time
certain flounder had evolved a transparency when
we held them up to the sun some said see-through
and others windowpane there were days out there
that trailed off like chalk then school would close
the walkers went one way the bussers the other
and when the stern had cleared we all said goodbye
from shore the forsythia waved back like hands



Behind the junkyard was a flagpole factory
from where the fish came to spawn in rust
by August we were getting close and our leader
I think her name was Sarah kept us on our toes
to spot in the pretend junk river a particular
phase with weeping jaw and halogenous eyes
to not mention the wind would be a mistake: wind
it was integral in the same way a cigar could not be
conceptualized by one of these Ford or Chrysler
breeders but its whistling pointed to how these
yards may have evolved from stranded whale
carcasses or xylophones and how this ties in
to flags is that they were never really there
just the poles and it was sad like evening
or watching your father's back grow small
we never hear from Sarah anymore some say
she fell in love with a place where olives were
thought to walk at night and return before picking
the day the big fish arrived she had forgotten
her flag and we stood behind the Buick
that had burned up in a fire and the eyes
really did have brights just like she said but
by the time she had remembered her throwing
stone trick our visitor had changed its mind



Catalpa hang all day around its face
and where brown arms reach out thin
cigars scrape clouds this is the way of
most things either you're part of the sky
or skied apart a few miles away more hang
in a photograph where a carp is rising the
photographer's name is unknown and so
is the moment the bright fish surfaced



Young Keller was a genius his mother told us
very quiet he'd spend afternoons dozing up
at the sky from his front yard one day when
the first pictures were beginning to develop I
caught him down by the marsh presiding over
a washed up anglerfish it had come from so far
and Ben Franklin would have been a good way
to understand its shape and how its thoughts
were pieced together well Young Keller had it
all figured out he made the call and the specialists
came down and were surprised at the find and that
little marsh is a house now they say you can always
go back
but not here and many other places
the way time accelerates and Jeffrey was
the right name for that fish all you had to do
was get one look to be sure do you know
that right across from the marsh was a golf course
and there's no way to tell who was playing that day



What should I remember was not what Godzilla
had in mind his plastic was seaweed green and
before the glue had set you could view his two
personalities cohering in the nearly pitch dark of
Keller's Volkswagen bus Keller had just come
back from California where everyone broke down
eating peanut butter sandwiches it was the winter
Kahoutek was supposed to show and so we drove
Godzilla to the dead end and shut the engine off
then the sky came out and the only thing left to
imagine was how the fish felt beneath the frozen
canal looking back I think milk and clouds but this
was before the palimpsests of silk and carp could
be considered outside the stars were fixed and the
reeds got stuck in me with the wind Kahoutek
never showed and Keller thought he tricked me
when he pointed that must be it to one of the
white dots what I don't remember I make
up he slowed the bus beneath a streetlamp and
Godzilla's tongue lit up so I could paint it



(Author & Fish, 1979)