- Remembering Rexroth’s Li Ch’ing Chao in Cordova, Alaska
"If I indulged my sad heart
The days would be still more
Frozen and sad. . . ."—Li Ch'ing Chao, "Quail Sky"
Is this what Li meant by a quail sky: white shell Mottled with thunder, a brittle convexity sealed smooth to the touch, Almost opaque, held up to the sun for candling? I doubt it. But her Englished words are stuck in my head today like a pop song.
Inland the blue arcs of Solomon's seal, sere yarrow stalks, fiddlehead ferns, Kids' bikes and buoys heaped at a shed door, trash cans Lined up in the side yards, old pickups parked along Main Street— Everything rinsed in salt-citrus wind off the sea.
Down in the harbor, gill netters and seine boats, bow pickers and tenders, Green nylon nets on the docks for mending, Rubber and fish guts, varnish, diesel, fog-soaked wool—an amalgam Of stinks, of steeps and flats: The duckboard ramp to the dock, Gasoline rainbows warped over the wave swells, the lush reek Of low tide—all that, and the translucent shell of the sky.
A twelve-hour opening's announced today for tomorrow. [End Page 14] Cell phones go off all over the harbor: a red salmon run rich enough For an all-out, all-day harvest only. Only one day. The day after, The fish must be let go uncaught to the spawning streams.
"It's not like the old days," a woman (not Ginny) says from the Ginny R's stern. "Those days, even the '80s, there was money in fishing. Enough and then some—but hey—" she picks up a hose, "I'm done complaining," and aims for the fish-hold.
"When you're heartsick, whining just makes things worse."
Jennifer Atkinson is the author of two books of poems, The Dogwood Tree and The Drowned City. She teaches creative writing at George Mason University.