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The Fishway at Holyoke
Those industrialists knew
what the drop in the river bottom meant.
In our hands the railings hum
with sixty-five thousand
gallons per second, power
with a new personality and an old intent.
Ten minutes before each lift
crowds gather on the platform below the dam
to watch gulls stake out summer camps
in the streaked rocks
wedged with trees March snowmelt
carried over the lip and left
for the tourists like bleached bones.
Lampreys struggle in musty pools,
marooned, but the shad line up in the current
thinking what we are thinking
is unlike our own minds, importantly
disengaged, discrete as a slice of pie.
When the operator starts the hydraulic gate
to shut the fish in we shout There it goes,
and a man explains to his younger daughter.
She understands the word want.
She nods. She watches the gate close,
the thick links of the pulley chain
raising the metal cart filled
with smooth, dark bodies.
He says, we help them,
and as she sees the box of fish rise
toward the door of the holding tank,
she believes him.
She forgets the gulls, the gasping eels,
the rock spiders hunched in their crevices.
Water streams from the lift.
We can't see upriver from here,
the wide throat cut north past the mountain hemlock,
staghorn, and combed fields edged
with blackberries, but it pulls, it pulls
at the wasp drinking from the bowl,
the man with hair implants buying petunias
at the nursery, the woman hitched home
after two weeks in jail who says
she didn't do anything wrong, just walked
from one house to the another.
The gears halt with a click and the hatch opens
and a river of fish cascades, snapping
against the I-beams, thudding on the pilings,
slipping through the space between metal and metal,
falling, and their bright sides breaking
the light into silver shards his words
try to catch for her, and he can't
remember where or how he learned
this way of measuring that keeps him
patient in the face of it,
this way of saying, honey,
most of them get in.
-from Fugitive Red
BIO: Karen Donovan is co-editor of Paragraph, a journal of short prose and designs homemade letterpress books for Oat City Press. Fugitive Red, a collection of her poems, won the 1998 Juniper Prize and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press. Her work appears most recently in Seneca Review and Hotel Amerika. She lives in Rhode Island and makes a living writing about software for engineering design.