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