Through the Burning World You Blazed (ode to a madtom)

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Through the Burning World You Blazed (ode to a madtom)

Post by bekateen »

McLarney, R., Street, L. G., & Gaddy, L. L. (Eds.). (2019). A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia. University of Georgia Press. ... ou-blazed/ ... adtom.html

Through the Burning World You Blazed
By Holly Haworth

  • Found, new madtom species, 2005. Herein described.
What’s that
mad little shadow
beneath the riffles
that curl in like pockets?

Lurks in rock-slab crevice,
sinks into its scaleless gossamer skin,
seeks not the spotlit surface of silv’ry seens.
Its eyes’ coinage the smooth distillate

of light that pools at the bottom,
it puffs not up its swim bladder—​
but let us not call it bottom-dweller. Not “it.” You, fish:
magician. I’ll call you Noturus crypticus.
  • Distribution: Greene County, Tennessee. Two-mile stretch of Little Chucky Creek, from the mouth of Jackson Branch to the Bible Bridge road crossing.
What trick, this evolutionary
blip of creation. You've written your existence scriptless
among the benthic all these years,
carved out a life endemic,
your kind in one lone creek-corner
of the world's wide waters.
  • Unknown diet, spawning times, predators.
What rituals
do you enter there,
among the Bigeye Chub, Central Stoneroller,
Stripetail Darter, Striped Shiner, and Banded
Sculpin? What other shadow do you fear,
what roils your cold blood an octave? Your
barbels skimming gravel, among the soft nymphs
of mayflies or armored ones of stone-
flies, among the encased wriggling larvae of caddis,
what do you delight upon?
And what precise tilt of the earth’s axis
urges your secret heart to fire and spawn?
  • Can be assumed species nests under stones like all other madtom species, males guarding eggs and larvae three to four weeks.
Once spawned—the female having spewed her eggs,
male sputtered his seed into each globe (we must guess,
based on genus, else what shall we tell of you?)—​

Mr. Madtom, you build a temple,
seal yourself with the eggs,
close openings off. Circling inside
that crypt of stones, pectoral fins
sweeping out like a robe, you supplicate yourself
to the slow surge of life.
Bend to listen into the translucent orbs.
Tending to each as a prayer, you starve yourself
and wait while the missus dances her eggless skeleton
into ecstasy in the currents;
you rest, a cessation—​
feel those specters of future larvae
squirm to come to form.

There hidden you dwell: in completion
or what subtle action of multiplication.
  • Distinguished from other madtoms (genus Noturus) by anal fin, and by pigmentation.
    mtDNA showed lineage independence
These stones were alchemists
three and a half million years ago
or who knows when
your copper splotches
became fused with birch-leaf pigment
at the pectoral and dorsal or when
your anal fin radiated outward
two more rays (eighteen of them)
to become three-quarters of a wheel
almost spinning from the spine of your tail
and when if given the veering chance
you might have become the sun itself.
  • Only fourteen specimens collected; none recently found. Last known specimen perished in hatchery aquarium awaiting a mate; intended breeding program failed.
You double-helixed stroke of luck,
I am losing the use for your name
soon after I’ve named you,
you cryptic flicker of language.
My tongue plies the silence of eons
like your dorsal did the bedrock waters.

And when did the tense of you shift?
(Or has it yet?— foolish hope I hold onto.)

Presently, crypticus, you are a screen of smoke
at the bottom of the creek
behind which lies a vault of silt
that is inside a basket of nothing but stones and crawfish
or nothing, only rubble.

I turn a rock slab over. Like a gray sky
it tilts; underneath, there is no trace
of a comet.
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