Another legend that surrounds the solstice involves fairies. On December 21st, the fairies of the world come out in the moonlight to play and dance. I'm not sure if they leave presents for children or kidnap/kill them. Think Rossetti's Goblin Market. I had a friend who used to hang cookies in trees for the fairies on the winter solstice.
Tonight, my poem is about a creature that could legend. The giant lake sturgeon. It's one of my better known works and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize when it was first published.
The Ugliest Fish in North America
by: Martin Achatz
The mother worries about DNA, how helix
Can twist, like shadows on bedroom walls,
Into something terrifying, tree into banshee,
Chair into dragon, son into a person
She’d avoid on street corners, thin
As a blade of grass, arms full of purple
Canals, a universe of scabby stars.
She wonders how the collision of egg
With sperm inside her belly created
This creature so drawn to the smell
Of carbon monoxide, the taste of razor.
From where in the evolution of family
Did this vestigial finger or toe of insanity
Come? Was it grandpa from Buffalo,
Who got drunk at Niagara Falls, walked
The railing like a Wallenda, one arm
Stretched toward his new bride,
The other toward thunder, mist, oblivion?
Was it great grandma from Russia,
Who buried two daughters in wheat
Fields before they could suckle because
They were daughters, couldn’t work the earth
From rock and frost into mud, into yam,
Corn, cabbage? Or was it someone she
Didn’t know, someone further than memory,
Who planted this seed in her tree,
This son flower who now fills her pillows
With the wail of loon over moon and lake?
One day when she was a girl, she stood
In the shallows of Superior, her body just
A promise of woman, mother. She felt
A monster slide by her in the water,
Larger than her father, a freight, all
Cartilage and fin, scute and armor,
A live fossil against her skin. She reached out,
Touched its flank, her fingers connected
To a thing ancient: carnosaurus, tarbosaurus,
Pteranodon. It moved slower than glacier,
Gave her time to know its prehistoric form,
Shape unchanged by seventy million years
Of spawn and weed, the skim for minnow,
Mayfly, mosquito. As a girl, the mother
Didn’t fear this car of a fish, instead accepted
Its presence as blessing, Paraclete, spirit
To pass on to her mother, father, mate, child.
Beside her son’s hospital bed today, she watches
Him, counts his breaths, wants to press
Her thumb to the flutter in his wrist.
She thinks of Longfellow’s hero, swallowed
By the sturgeon, crawling down its throat,
Through rib, toward the drumming darkness.
She closes her eyes, wraps her arms around
Nahma’s great heart, lets it throb, convulse
Against her face and breasts, hears blood
Roaring in and out, to gill, brain, nose, tail.
She holds on the way she wants to now hold
Her son. To save him, reverse Darwin, genetics.
Force Him backwards to the time when his life
Was still cretaceous, a mystery. A shining,
Black egg in the vast water of her womb.
Please vote for Saint Marty:
Voting for next Poet Laureate of the U. P.