In the time of Old Man who was then lean and tall as a lodgepole pine -- 1953 perhaps -- the Black Flies hatched along the South Saskatchewan River. They emerged from the river's lullaby, took on ferocity as they approached cattle, biting, drawing blood, killing. While they slept in the river's cocoon, we ate their pupae and larvae, river berries as sweet and succulent as Old Man's saskatoons.
We came to know of the poison through our gill slits -- the resonance of voice lying at the base of our useless tongues. They were channels to the common vision of wet, an eye in the ancient superorder of fishes Chondrostei. We were the king of all fish, the last that scouted the veins of the glaciers. Finding the sharp scent of the mud banks in the river, we dived and stayed.
The Black Flies harassed men and the creatures they owned. We fish of the Old Order have no such offense. We are bottom-feeders, elusive, yielding our eggs in the oldest profession of sacrifice. Old Man heard our story after the DDT spilled, listened to the slow passion of our death as we spit into mud trying to get back to the vein of the glaciers-above-the-river.
The rubber hoses were calibrated for DDT, filled with kerosene for three weeks before the Day of Poisoning, eroding the firmament of round sand. The slim snakes held the poison aimed for Black Flies. The surly snakes overdosed downstream of the 25th Street Bridge, said Old Man, we found whitefish, trout, jackfish, pickerel, sturgeon.
Here's three cheers for the Virgin Sturgeon
Virgin Sturgeon is a fish
Old Man sings, crooning memory that is cleft between rum and Saskatchewan river-sun.
Superorder Chondrostei, almost reclaiming legs, bewhiskered knowledge trying to escape the artery of an old glacier after the injection of DDT, the puncture of poison into the small downstream vein of a river.
Virgin Sturgeon needs no urgin'
That's why caviar is my dish.
Old Man sings this ceremonial song to remember the overdose that the scientists gave the river. He sings it, amazes himself with our presence, our twenty-foot length, our docility of no teeth.
There are so few of us left who float the dialect of gill, this third eye that saw the silt shift to kill the fly larvae. We drifted into a mud bath of DDT, the sharp scent of God gone.
Did I ever tell you what happened to the sturgeon along the Saskatchewan River when the DDT got into the river?
Old Man tells the story when he sings his ceremonial sturgeon song.