This morning, my daughter’s friend tapped the fishtank and remarked, “Fish are like birds.”
Busy picking up stray socks or something, I nodded and said, “Right, yeah, they’re all in the animal kingdom.”
But something made me turn and look and forget those socks for a moment. Kneeling beside the tank, the girl’s face stared upward at the water, mesmerized by the gray and bright copper fish a neighbor had gleaned from his pond a few years back. “Birds are up in the trees. Fish are in the water.” This could have been one of those well, duh moments, but the girl was so transfixed. Maybe what she was seeing was fish hovering in the water, birds fluttering through the air, and us — the human world — plodding along earthbound.
In a recent New Yorker, Sharon Olds writes of her friend Galway Kinnell’s death:
… you fish your side
of the river, I’ll fish mine, you said
it meant – and I can see us, decades,
fishing both sides of the river,
together, sharing the catch.
Writing, as John Cheever famously said, is not a competitive sport. Where I fish in my shallow part of the river shouldn’t impinge on your territory. Why not eat each other’s fish and poems? This girl reminded me that I should push the map of my world deeper and wider, beyond my daily geography. The natural venue for birds is air, for fish water. Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell knew a territory where a river of poetry looped through, a wild terrain where they worked separately and yet together partook of the river’s bounty.
All this poetry aside, the girl also remarked, “This fish tank really needs to be cleaned.” On that, too, I concur.