Topography by Virginia Watts



The mountain creeks my older brother Mark and I hiked along to reach waterfalls never looked like swimming pools or giant bathtubs, not like anything you have to put life into. There were wide parts and narrow parts and wide parts again, jagged edges. Sometimes, the water was deep and rolling. Sometimes, it dropped steadily over round rocks or leapfrogged across fallen sticks. Sometimes, the creeks sat still in pools that shimmered sunlight in different shades of copper like a handful of pennies. Rainbow trout hid where the water was deepest and coldest. There were puddles too, just like on city streets, shallow and no bigger than the bottom of a bucket. Here we found the baby fish we called minnows, the strange translucence of their bodies made their black eyes dominant and shocking. I would sink to my knees and open my mouth.

Can fish really see? How can anything see with such little eyes? There’s so many, why aren’t they crashing into each other? Are there blind fish? I mean, every species has blindness, right? Can they hear? I mean, that’s pretty funny. Imagine a fish with ear lobes. People can’t hear that much under water either, but we can hear some things. If all these grow up, won’t they clog up the creek? How many do you think are here? A thousand? A million? Maybe they all have to leave and find some other place to live eventually. Know how fish in aquariums never stop opening and closing their mouths? How come some water doesn’t miss the gills and get in their stomachs? Don’t fish have stomachs? Or, is it gizzards they have?

When I finally turn my head from the creek puddle, my brother’s feet are no longer beside my kneecaps, sunken now into silky mud. I hop up, a twinge of panic. He is standing on a flat rock beside Lincoln Falls. I pick my steps as fast as I can across the slippery creek bottom to reach the dry path. I hurry toward him, calling his name, but he can’t hear me, and it’s farther than it looks. He waves, ducks behind the cascade, and just like that, he vanishes.


Virginia Watts is the author of poetry and stories found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, The Blue Mountain Review, The Moon City Review, Permafrost Magazine, Palooka Magazine, Streetlight Magazine, Sky Island Journal, among others. Winner of the 2019 Florida Review Meek Award in nonfiction and nominee for Best of the Net 2019 Nonfiction, her poetry chapbooks “The Werewolves of Elk Creek” and “Shot Full of Holes” are upcoming for publication by The Moonstone Press.


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