It was nearly still water, that river,
with no rapids talking, but she learned from it
the fish. First, noticing the one with a hard
maw for scraping the algae she ate off stone,
then all the ways beings were made to live
in those parts.
Molly crawl bottom had a downturned mouth
for bottom feeding. The commonest
fish, living even in ditches, Mollies found ways
to make do. And she could identify them
in however much murk because of how long
she’d spent staring at the same places.
The lamprey eel had a sucker face.
Seven years, she stayed burrowed in the mud,
blind. Then, in one week, she emerged, grew eyes,
bit on to a rock, and waited to mate. Males
let sperm drift and she loosed her eggs.
That was her peak, her purpose, and she died.
That’s what became of her when she went out
looking—a lesson as easy to identify
as the long lines of the eel among any other species.
Sunfish had little upturned lips for pecking
insects from the surface, and were broad like sails,
because they were from slow corners.
The way their flattened forms were swept
downstream by the slightest current looked like
an argument for staying where you belong.
For moving like the wives who hugged
corners when they passed through rooms, slipped
into kitchens where dishwater made their voices
unknowns beneath its gushing.
Mouths can say enough about the way you are
without making a sound. That’s the sort of thing
she’d been taught to—tried to, for years—tell herself
when she watched the river and saw that water