FRED OTT'S SNEEZE
Once, when I was a teenager, I caught
a man bending over in a long string
of sneezes. An older woman leaned close
and said, You can always tell how a man
will be in bed by how he sneezes.
After that, I couldn't help myself:
I'd think: he makes that exact expression
when he comes. I'd never waste my time
talking to any man who suppressed his sneezes.
One of the earliest motion pictures
made for the Edison Kinetoscope showed
a man take a pinch of snuff,
and the resulting sneeze. You'd watch it
through a peephole: 81 frames
of involuntary bodily contortions.
Seen in slow motion, it appears that Fred Ott
has a religious revelation:
beatitude, oblivion, explosion.
People paid to see this:
they called it entertainment.
The burbot is a long thin fish.
Todd calls it an eelpout and curses its name;
it steals the bait he intends for walleyes,
it wraps around his arm when he releases
the hook, its teeth are numerous and sharp,
and its beard, the single barbel, odd.
He curses it and throws it back.
The French call it river cod
and poach the liver in white wine and make pate
called foix de lotte de rivière. Alaskans
call it ling cod and bake it whole; chefs prize
its flakes of tender white flesh.
I’ve never tasted the fish.
Todd shows me photos on his phone:
he wants to brag about his tricked-out
ice-fishing shack with its large-screen TV
and all the walleyes he catches.
Everyone in Wisconsin, he insists,
hates the eelpout. Turns out it’s the only
freshwater fish in the cod family.
Was it separated from its salty kin
by continental shift, by some early
unmarked cataclysm? The burbot is the only
freshwater fish to spawn in winter,
at the same time as saltwater cod.
Burbots rise each winter from the depths
for a shallow orgy, sometimes a hundred or more
intertwined bodies in a quivering ball,
releasing eggs and sperm, churning
beneath a blanket of ice.
IN MEMORIAM: MING THE CLAM
(1499 – 2006)
The oldest known living
was dredged up
still alive, age 507,
can count the rings
on their shells the same way
study tree rings.
The ocean quahog
or arctica islandica
lives in the top two inches
of muddy substrates
off the freezing coasts
of northern Europe
and North America.
Climate, sea temperature,
the environmental changes
are embedded there,
coated in a tough black
Inside her shell,
Ming shone like the moon.
Kim Roberts’s fifth book of poems, The Scientific Method, was released from WordTech Editions in February 2017. She is the co-editor of the journals Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the Delaware Poetry Review, and editor of the anthology Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC (Plan B Press, 2010). Her book of walking tours, A Literary Guide to Washington, DC from Frances Scott Key to Zora Neale Hurston, will be published in Spring of 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. Roberts is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, HumanitiesDC, and the DC Commission on the Arts, and has been a writer-in-residence at 15 artist colonies.
Her website is http://www.kimroberts.org.