The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Kirsten Hampton

What I Mean By Relative Time

These are natal rivers.
In spring, the Atlantic sturgeon,
a rarity, lumbers in from the sea,
across the threshold of the Chesapeake,
comes in like a long house,
up the river to spawn,
nosing the soft substrate
for worms and clams,
its bony-body covered with shield-plates
like cliff walls of the Potomac
channeled in the Pleistocene.

In spring, the herring come.
They navigate up the Rappahannock to nurseries,
the blue-backed or pewter alewife,
finfishes as metallic as the quartzite-shards
of Clovis spear points
hafted to fit in the split tip
of an arrow, the herring as it ascends.

In from the orbit of ocean and deep Bay
to spawn in the tidal river flush
comes the rockfish bass,
the grand striper
heavy as a packet brig full with chained men,

or hands of history
joined like rivers in the watershed.
With stripes of black and white,
lover of Virginia's Neck and peninsula,
lured by angler's spoons and crank baits,
the fish drifts amid the sunlit sheaves
in glinting larval shallows.

And in the temporary meanwhile,
the shad arrive,
come about from wintering
near the northern ice rim
to the Eocene estuarine crater
of the Chesapeake.
They come to feed on copepods and mysids,
to tail-walk up the rolls of the river,
shad as in American shad,
white shad, hickory shad,
hickory jack,
shad that wait for the slow change,

like the passing of planets,
the melting ice to temperate water,
and in the way the English plotted
as they moored and mapped this watercourse,
the shad wait, then spawn.

The water turns dark,
like the patina of a gun
or a nation rising out of dank light,
and then the fish are gone,
like the moon, the tide, dominion,
changed but the same, overnight.

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