Taylor Graham


A catch of rock cod, bright carnelian,
waits on ice. Striped sea bass, pompano,
grouper, carp identified in Vietnamese.
Others with names I don't know in any
language, each one waiting to be hand-
picked, then gutted by the aproned man
wielding his lightning blade.

All I want is a fish to steam
in a ginger-garlic glaze, served
with a seaweed broth with radish.

In a narrow tank, giant catfish crowd
and jumble, gape lips against glass
where a young child stoops, wide-
eyed as if to kiss on the mouth
a startled swimmer. So many silver
bodies swarming foreign dialects about
me in the simple tongue of hunger.


Telephone poles snap past the corner of my eye,
I could count them like freight cars on the track
without looking, if there'd been a train

instead of steel ribbing the flat fields
and this interminable argument that started
twenty miles ago when we stopped for gas.

What, exactly, was the point of dissension?
Beyond the empty parallel rails, some nameless
crop extends row after row, as if forever.

It's been 57 years since my father's brother
slammed the driver's door and stuck his key
in the ignition, still arguing with my aunt

over who-knows-what on a frigid Christmas Eve.
Left her arms akimbo watching him jab
one foot on the clutch, the other on the gas,

headed east across the tracks. Still arguing
with her no with himself. Arguing so loud
how could he have heard the whistle?


A tiebreaker between light and shadow,
now, when the noon is no more than
a slip and shoosh of tidewater out
to the bay, and the strange boy
has gathered his fragments of shells,
plodding past a swamped canoe
and fishermen's litter caught like
dirty bandages in reeds and cockleburs,

if you stop long enough, you might feel
your boot-soles settle in to mud,
the pull of water stretching itself
between here and there, the gaze
of some ungainly grace almost hidden
in rushes, the night-heron with his
one red eye turned to watch you.

Taylor Graham is a volunteer search-and-rescue dog handler in the Sierra Nevada. Her poems have appeared in International Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, The New York Quarterly, Poetry International, and elsewhere.  Her work also appears in the anthology, California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Santa Clara University, 2004). Her latest book, The Downstairs Dance Floor (Texas Review Press, 2006), is winner of the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize.



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