Poems by Molly Fisk

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American River

by Molly Fisk

From Canary Summer 2012

Molly lives in the south fork of the Yuba River's watershed, about 50 feet from Rush Creek, which does rush in winter but is illegally funneled into a neighbor's pond in summer. This provides her with opportunities for activism, conservancy, and compassion in her literal back yard.


The sound of a thousand separate sounds made anew by
    different water,
not the water we paddled through which is far downstream,
slapping the rocks of our afternoon.

The lower rapids gurgle high while the upper echo a
    deeper tone —
nothing is singular, everything here is a multitude,
simultaneous: an explosion, percussive and sparkling,
song of a thousand remembered rivers,
rasp of a thousand shifted stones.


Alder and willow, and up a little farther on the hill,
Digger pine’s lacy outline.
Always oaks and the dry brown grass of a western summer.
Two little tweetle-y birds in the bush
I wouldn’t know even if I held them in my hands.
The way birdsong sounds like metal scraping briefly against something hard.
Lapping backwater rocking the boat, and blackberries,
the eating of which brings us back to the fold of our brothers and sisters
the sweet-toothed bears.
Air quick against skin recently drenched with emerald river.
The white flowers of rapids to come
blossoming, blossoming.


The merganser says not now
and hunkers closer to her rock
mid-river, her red neck and head
indivisible from granite,
her buff breast feathers unseen.

Three turtles on a log,
motionless, until the very last
minute. Not here, they grumble
and slide under green glass,
an oar parts their log’s reflection.

Not me, whispers the brown trout
switching his tail faster than sight
and ducking under a shelf into
the dim reaches.

And the alder leaves flicker
in a hot July breeze,
listen, listen.


by Molly Fisk

From Canary Fall 2011

I have heard this music before,
saith the body. —Mary Oliver

Always the heart repeats its true name.
The twin bellows of lung fill and soften, and soften
further, and fill, a song heard in the pines,
in the eaves of houses emptied in summer—
a gurgle of laughter, water. I am alone,
like the fox, alert on an unused road, still.
Listening. Wild radish and lupine, larkspur,
the grasses: bright flags of the generous world.
And since yes requires its answering no,
the snapped neck of a deer splayed half-across the path
and a pair of raucous crows. Farther along, something,
a vole or hapless mouse, gathered and dispersed
in the delicate cough ball of an owl.
This is when it gets difficult: learning how to live.
A sliver of burnished ocean sings beyond the hills
and the sturdy heart blesses its own reflection.

Previously published in Listening to Winter (Roundhouse/Heyday Press, 2000).


by Molly Fisk

From Canary February/March 2009

        The first fight I ever remember hearing as a child was at the dinner table when my father's parents were visiting us in San Francisco. They were arguing about the presidential race between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, my parents for Kennedy and my grandparents for Nixon. I have no idea what was said, I think I was six, but grown-ups yelling at the dinner table made a big impression on me. From then on, I understood that my grandmother was something intractable called a Republican. My grandfather died soon after, but I was close to my grandmother for the next 30 years. She showed me that it's possible to change your mind.
      After my grandfather died, my grandmother started doing what she loved to do, which was watching birds. She already had a banding license and had been monitoring the birds she banded and sending the data to Fish & Game. She lived on Cape Cod, but began driving her blue Volkswagen down the coast to Florida every autumn, netting and banding birds along the way, stopping in at wildlife reserves and Audubon stations and making friends.
     When I was sent to visit her, she took me to walk the beaches, where it turned out she was tracking the use of DDT. I can't remember how DDT got into the ocean, but when seabirds eat fish with DDT in them, they hatch chicks who can't fly. My job was to look for feathers with very short shafts, and bring them to her, and then she'd send a big box of them to the scientists doing the study. When she found a malformed bird, which happened about once a week, she would send me up the beach ahead of her while she held it in her big hands, tightly, so it couldn't draw breath, and later made a study-skin of it and sent it to the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell.
       Somewhere on this journey, my grandmother's ideas about the world shifted. She learned about ecology from all her biologist friends. She started reading Rachel Carson. The DDT study really made her mad. She taught me to rinse plastic bags and dry them on the dishtowel rack instead of throwing them away when I was ten, and she cooked out of Diet for a Small Planet before anyone I knew had even started to be vegetarian. The next time Nixon ran for president, she put a Eugene McCarthy sticker on her bumper.
       I thought of her when I saw Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." Al says that unless we change the way we live in the next three to five years, we'll be in irreversible trouble. The change he's talking about feels daunting to me, and I already eat organic food, and turn off the water while I'm brushing my teeth.
The only thing that gives me a tiny bit of hope is remembering the way my grandmother changed. Even when overthrowing your most ingrained habits seems wildly unlikely, it's not impossible.


by Molly Fisk

From Canary Summer 2011

Finally I just gave up and became an animal.
I slept when I was tired,
sometimes dropping in mid-stride,
curling into a knot on the sunny floor.
I ate raw food at odd hours,
wiped my mouth on the back of my hand,
stopped brushing my hair.
The phone rang, but I didn’t answer it.
Mail lay unopened on the stairs. Flowers
drooped in dry pots. Dust sifted down
from the ceiling in hazy swirls.
I left the windows open.
After a few weeks I grew
accustomed to it, sank deeper
into my actual body, learned to love
the hours as they passed.
I let go of the spinning
human world and walked in the hills at night 
under a changing moon.
Deer swung their heads toward me. 
I sat beside them in their beds of creaking grass
listening to crickets ticking in the heat.
I cooled my skin in the ocean, licked 
the crusted salt from my arms.
In time, my throat forgot to speak, 
it lost the bright angles of consonants,
the dark sloping vowels. It joined the chorus  
of mute life with a kind of hum.

reprinted from Listening to Winter (Roundhouse/Heyday Press, 2000)

This Breaking Wave

by Molly Fisk

From Canary Spring 2011

this salt curling foam,
the pounding and fast slish
up a wet shore, bare
hesitation until the receding,
folding back into what’s blue
and endless, the stones
turning and turning, a cracked
dollar bleached white
and churned, end over end,
shadow of seal and gull,
fountain of pelican, delicate
toe prints of whimbrel and plover
lacing unblemished surface,
everyone’s life will be nothing:
migrating ladybugs caught
in an offshore wind, the brown
dog who tomorrow will stray
into the road, my father’s
footprints erased so many decades
ago, all that we say and wish
forgotten, tatter of kelp,
driftwood, torn leaf of beach plum,
the twinned purple mussel
shells broken.

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