Poetry / October 2017 (Issue 37)

Night Fishing on the Li River

by Jenny Wong

The cormorants shift,
restless beneath the watery moon.

Darkness laps against raft's edges,
tasting for weakness in the wood,
while the birds wait
for the sound of fins against current,
the smell of silver beneath the waves.

Webbing spreads tight between toe bones.
Crescent claws curl into hooks.
Their feathered bodies see-saw in anticipation
along a hollow stem of bamboo
held lengthwise in a fisherman's grip.

Stay, the old man says,
his command a hard flat stone
skipping out across the ripples,
echoing between jagged ghosts
of mountain ranges rising out of the bay.

Throat snares tighten around thin pipe necks.
They squawk and beat their wings in dissent
at being forbidden to dive and capture.
The fisherman tilts their perch,
reminding them why they are here.

They are not here for the fish. They are here for the tourists.

Marble eyes blink away from river water
only to be mesmerized by the tin behemoths floating past.
Flashes of lightning ricochet inside glassy bellies
full of cameras and pointing fingers,
leaving a trail of black carbons, invisible in the night.
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