Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

The Round Fish

by Eleanor Wilner

with neither bones nor skin
swims in the green haze of a golden sea
shot through with sun that tangles
in the weeds, like the woven filaments
of tapestry. Playful, he skims the tops of waves
like a skipped stone; plumbs the green depths
not as a stone falls, but
as a swimmer dives for his own delight.
On a still night, when you think you see the moon
stare back at you from the surface of a pond,
it may not be a mere reflected light,
twice-removed from the sun--but the round fish
regarding you, as a man may stare intently
at a mirror, trying, through the too familiar face,
to catch a glimpse of someone half-perceived.
It is no trick of mirrors, no infinite regress
of self-regarding mind, but the round fish
regarding you, recovering his own.

I watched a man one night, by a stream,
transfixed by the round fish, until he broke
the water with his hand, wanting to scoop
it out, like some demented bear, all his cunning
in his paw. When he drew back his arm,
his hand was silver to the wrist.

That night I dreamed of swimming, far out
at sea, beyond the line of reefs, easy
as you swim in dreams. And the round fish
with neither bones nor skin
swam near, the sky blazed blue, the fish
was rainbow-hued, right before he disappeared.
Surprised, I saw a jut of land I hadn't seen before
and climbed ashore, following the tracks
the fish had left, which fit so strangely
with my own. The trail now is not so fresh,
harder to follow in the undergrowth; still
it was something to have been started on at all;
it hardly matters that, where the sea turns
into land and the growth thickens--you no longer know
the trail you take
from the one that you are making as you go.
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