Some of us have never seen the ocean
done our swimming in the green haze
of reservoirs. At the fish fry we dig right through
cornmeal fried gritty to the steaming forkfuls
the white thread of nourishment, the flesh
of bottom feeders.
In ancient mid-continent clay
churned up like soup
the awful hidden heaviness
of the trot line coming up--
their slick bodies thick as a leg
boil up through the green water
reflecting blue segments of sky like grease.
There are giants, they say
in canyons under Lake Ozark,
where the needle
on the old depthfinder
swung past zero, round the dial twice.
Was it twice?
Too deep for fishing
but we know they're down there
in the dark, silent, their great
drawing something out.
I have always imagined
a lake no one ever touched.
I fell asleep knowing
it was out there,
maybe deep in the mountains
even the few hunters who passed
too afraid of its stillness
to fill their canteens,
four hundred feet deep and clear
to the far reaches of light
if you touched it it would
ring like a bell it would
grow a monster like a frequency
that feeds on itself it would
wait until you weren't looking
swell and push
the creature onto the bank.
The real secret isn't stalking the woods
and it's already been photographed.
You remember--the hundred pound flatheads strung up
in the yellowed print, thick lipped death masks
bones heavy as ribs under slick skin
gills bulging like the wild sideburns of old men.
The way their huge bony heads breathed for hours
on the bank, unblinking eyes covered with dust
and what the fishermen thought was dull strength.
And you remember the sleek baby channel cat
thrown back, grunting its surprised little song,
inches from language, you remember the flatheads
that infiltrated the canals, rumbling stories of geology
in their huge bony skulls, waiting
for the water to try again, heave them onto the banks
of mid-america-isolated sandbars and marshes.
Before long, downtown St. Louis.
The size of canoes, Volkswagons,
the next thing.
They have been still a long time, beating fine mud with their gills,
studying layers of sediment, they know things we don't
they are already a hundred years old, tasting air with sandpaper mouths.
Croaking the names of underground lakes, they look straight at us
seeing no reason to blink and soon enough
they will speak.
Previous version appeared in The Texas Review