When you think of fish, if you think of fish,
do you think of this fish? If so, do you think
of a dish of caviar or the Civil War?
For me this fish brings
to mind an elbow or knee, places we bend
where touch is close to the bone. Touch
your patella—from the Latin for a “small shallow dish,”
and this one upside down and covered, skin over bone plate—
you get close to the feel of sturgeon with its rows of scutes
(starting more like “skew” than “school” and ending like “boots”),
bony plates under their rough brown skin.
Since these drab late bloomers don't mate
till their teens or even twenties and then only
every three years or so, do you think stodgy
sturgeon? Do you know our appetites took
their generations before they could be?
Their roe fed an economy
for a time in the late nineteenth century.
These somber bottom feeders
are long-lived fish. The males live into our middle-age;
the females can live to be one hundred and fifty or so
—twice our lifetimes.
If fish could talk, I would settle in with one of these
antique Tennesseans and ask
If fish had knees, when you were a fry
at your father's how did he explain to you the cries
of men at the Battle of Chattanooga,
the thud of bodies come to rest, the boot-thump
of rough brogans, the report of rifle and cannon fire
—Southern men (not bending the knee to keep others
in their thrall, claiming generations before they could be,
using slave labor to feed the economy) routed on the ridges
above your home?
What rippled your sky?
Did you hear
cannon fire for thunderclap
and wait for rain?
That’s what I would ask,
if fish could talk,
and I could find one
that survived the last century
in those Southern waters
we dammed and sullied.
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