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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Elizabeth Bradfield

Silver Hake

Thrash splash at the edge

of vision. Fish at the marsh

edge on an ebb tide. I walked

over. Took a photo. A photo. A

photo. In air, gold-eyed

and rust speckled. How long


that moment for the fish,

for me. Then I put my hands

just behind the gills, breathed

into right grip, and moved

so water could pass over frill.

I called up to ask if anyone


would like to see? To see? They

shook their heads, silent, silhouetted

against sky. They knew better

than me. And so I let it—

silver hake—go. I thought

I’d seen it so clearly, slick, vivid


muscle in my hands, bronze

body in bronze sand. But,

home, I flipped through, pinched

and zoomed, held and beheld

again, which is when


I saw the perfect circle pressed

into flank which had to be made

by one ring of a scalloper’s mesh bag.

Which is why—bycaught & tossed back

as the crew was steaming home,


marsh sucking tide into

its big lungs, shucking &

tossing all but the marketable muscle—

we came upon this fish


who shares a blush

with the scallop’s shell. Who

swims over their beds. Who wasn’t

intended to be caught up in all this

but was.


To carry something fragile—a vole

skull, for example, or the thin,

ridged shell of a paper nautilus—make

a cage of yourself, curl fingers stiff

around a space you could close


to a fist. And at first it’s easy. But you fear

your scattered mind: Careful care

ful careful careful each footfall. You worry

about the little gap where your

smallest finger touches


your healthline. The short walk home

stretches long. Try a few positions

of the arm—ahead, elbow dug

into waist, palm cupped up; ulna tight

across diaphragm or ovary; radius

tucked below the hip’s wing. It’s not


easy, though nothing is heavy. Your hand

sweats and cramps and one part of you longs

to just let it go. But you picked it up. You’ve

carried it this far, this thing. And now


it must be held until you find a safe place

—desk, car, sill by the door—

to put it down.


We know them most easily

by how we often know

those othered: scars.


What’s wrong? you ask, & I’m pleased

you notice what I thought I’d hid.


Shall I list some? Coral’s trailing edge

raked hard by teeth. Piano’s flank sliced

by prop into keyboard. Pele’s barnacle dot.


Nothing, I say, noting the spot on your cheek

that’s emerged the last few years.


Banyan’s shredded fluke. Music, Pleats, Venom,

Cajun, all marked by killer whale, by boat, by

what monofilament has cut away.


Our faces, my sweet, are no longer blank

slates, remade each day. At rest, they speak.


I focus the lens. Document the known &

the new. Pink means fresh wound: rope-

made, hull and prop-made, the body healing.


Sweetheart, I’m less interested in those old

marks than what worries begin to mark you now.


I note it all: time, location, association. Is there

a calf? Yes, six months old and already twice

scarred, twice freed. Maybe that young wound will heal.


I hook a bra, pull on shorts, glad for what they hide.

I know my hidden stories. Stretchmarks, sag, scar.


Naked, unhoused, every surface surrounded

by moving matter—how can we know a whale?

Sound thrumming up the jaw to ear, voice


What (not what, but how, tone) did

you say? What are you not saying?


inside the body’s vast resonances. Where echoes

can’t be known, can be ignored, can offer

what we all turn away from.


Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Toward Antarctica, which uses haibun and photographs to query her work as a naturalist in Antarctica, and Theorem, a collaboration with artist Antonia Contro. She is also co-editor of Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology, Poetry, and Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020. Bradfield’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Sun, and her honors include the Audre Lorde Prize and a Stegner Fellowship.  Based on Cape Cod, Liz works as a naturalist, teaches at Brandeis University, and runs Broadsided.

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