We are paddling into the slough,
past plumes of factory smoke and the buzz of agribusiness on 101.
Just far enough to get away from human noise,
gliding by guano-stained rocks where a convention of herons
stares straight ahead, then rises,
with one mind, into early-morning fog and disperses.
We are dipping our oars
as quietly as wooden stirrers in dawn coffee.
When you can’t hear the freeway anymore,
you can see the seals
popping up like periscopes, a black rubber bathing cap,
eyes intelligent as a dog’s
and three slits for nostrils. It is so quiet we can hear them breathe,
hoarsely, like a child with a cold, sjhaa, sjhaa.
We can let our paddles rest idle.
The current is taking us.
It’s easy to forget how to be alive,
and then on such mornings it all comes back to us, simply:
feel your body beloved inside the cradle of the canoe,
rocking gently through cold water,
last night’s lovemaking warm inside your pants,
pooling a little, the way a small puddle of bay water
forms under you, dipped from the paddles.
Fog wrapped softly like a gauze bandage
around everything you can’t control: water’s swiftness,
or the way this last year has flown
like a night whose dreams you can’t remember.
A run of ripples means we have to get back before the tide turns.
And the tide is turning fast,
old lover. More time behind than ahead
for us. But then the open sea.
The men down on Alameda Beach
are pulling striped bass from the glittering water.
Small red stars of cigarettes between their fingers.
Poles stationed like sentinels, stuck in the sand,
lines cast far out,
buckets at the ready.
Waves wash over the tired shoreline
like a lace slip over bare brown shoulders.
The men grin to each other, don’t say much.
Fish flop in the pail. Sand dabs. Bass.
The bay is full of dioxin; do they know?
They are fishing to feed their families
in a school of different languages: Tagalog,
Hmong, Mien, Spanish, Vietnamese.
In the dark, a man can be a man
or a shadow in the moonlight, voice out of night,
just another kind of animal with two fine, flexible hands.
Each one standing full of private thoughts,
up to his knees in alive water.
Fish know the truth of depth and shimmer,
then the hook and the fatal sparkling air.
The men know what they know
even if tomorrow at the factory, and the next day, and the next,
will press the memory of this freedom
flatter than a glint of mica. Still, it shines.