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Illinois Poet's Forum - Past Forums


by Brigit Pegeen Kelly


There is a wretched pond in the woods. It lies on the north end of a piece of land owned by a man who was taken to an institution years ago. He was a strange man. I only spoke to him once. You can still find statues of women and stone gods he set up in dark corners of the woods, and sometimes you can find flowers that have survived the collapse of the hidden gardens he planted. Once I found a flower that looked like a human brain growing near a fence, and it took my breath away. And once I found, among some weeds, a lily white as snow....No one tends the land now. The fences have fallen and the deer grown thick, and the pond lies black, the water slowly thickening, the banks tangled with weeds and grasses. But the pond was very old even when I first came upon it. Through the trees I saw the dark water steaming, and smelled something sweet rotting, and then as I got closer, I saw in the dark water shapes, and the shapes were golden, and I thought, without really thinking, that I was looking at the reflections of leaves or of fallen fruit, though there were no fruit trees near the pond and it was not the season for fruit. And then I saw that the shapes were moving, and I thought they moved because I was moving, but when I stood still, still they moved. And still I had trouble seeing. Though the shapes took on weight and muscle and definite form, it took my mind a long time to accept what I saw. The pond was full of ornamental carp, and they were large, larger than the carp I have seen in museum pools, large as trumpets, and so gold they were almost yellow. In circles, wide and small, the plated fish moved, and there were so many of them they could not be counted, though for a long time I tried to count them. And I thought of the man who owned the land standing where I stood. I thought of how years ago in a fit of madness or high faith he must have planted the fish in the pond, and then forgotten them, or been taken from them, but still the fish had grown and still they thrived, until they were many, and their bodies were fast and bright as brass knuckles or cockscombs. I tore pieces of my bread and threw them at the carp, and the carp leaped, as I have not seen carp do before, and they fought each other for the bread, and they were not like fish but like gulls or wolves, biting and leaping. Again and again, I threw the bread. Again and again, the fish leaped and wrestled. And below them, below the leaping fish, near the bottom of the pond, something slowly circled, a giant form that never rose to the bait and never came fully into view, but moved patiently in and out of the murky shadows, out and in. I watched that form, and after the bread was gone and after the golden fish had again grown quiet, my mind at last constructed a shape for it, and I saw for the space of one moment or two with perfect clarity, as if I held the heavy creature in my hands, the tarnished body of an ancient carp. A thing both fragrant and foul. A lily and a man's brain bound together in one body. And then the fish was gone. He turned and the shadows closed around him. The water grew blacker, and the steam rose from it, and the golden carp held still, still uncountable. And softly they burned, themselves like flowers, or like fruit blown down in an abandoned garden.

"Windfall" from The Orchard (BOA Educators, Ltd., 1995).