Ode to the Fish

Nights, when I can’t sleep, I listen to the sea lions
barking from the rocks off the lighthouse.
I look out the black window into the black night
and think about the fish stirring the ocean.
Muscular tuna, their lunge and thrash
churning the water to froth,
whipping up a squall, storm of hunger.
Herring cruising, river of silver in the sea,
wide as a lit city. And all the small breaths:
pulse of frilled jellyfish, thrust of squid,
frenzy of krill, transparent skin glowing
green with the glass shells of diatoms.
Billions swarming up the water column each night,
gliding down at dawn. They’re the greased motor
that powers the world, whirring
Mixmaster folding the planet’s batter.
Shipping heat to the Arctic, hauling cold
to the tropics, currents unspooling around the globe.
My room is so still, the bureau lifeless,
and on it, inert, the paraphernalia of humans:
keys, coins, shells that once rocked in the tides —
opalescent abalone, pearl earrings.
Only the clock’s sea green numerals
register their small changes. And shadows
the moon casts — fan of maple branches —
tick across the room. But beyond the cliffs
a blue whale sounds and surfaces, cosmic
ladle scooping the icy depths. An artery so wide,
I could swim through into its thousand pound heart.

Ellen Bass is author of The Human Line from Copper Canyon Press and Mules of Love from BOA Editions. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, and teaches at Pacific University.