Mark Vogel

Upstream

Just offshore from the Ford plant in Alton, Illinois
in murky chocolate Mississippi River
depths a five hundred pound bull shark
was hooked—a half drunk shirtless Marine
fishing for catfish felt the powerful tug,
then fought the nine footer for
four hours, gaffed him, still unbelieving,
and drug him into his john boat.

Surely this gray-white beautiful myopic torpedo
didn’t plot the itinerary and swim
straight from the Gulf to St. Louis like he was
a Cardinal fan and wanted to see the Arch,
but no one understands how surely he nursed
whirlpool edges, caressed bridges
and rock eddies, rested on underwater logs,
following grain barges through

Louisiana, Mississippi, past Memphis, Blytheville.
New Madrid, and beyond. Surely
he got lost in tributaries, like Indian Creek
in Cape County, where in four head-twisting
gulps he ate a rotten hog. Surely lonely, dazed
by muddy freshwater and alien food,
he bullied the catfish and alligator gar
in the mile wide bubbling sewer.

Heading due north, no one said he couldn’t
be playful skimming the surface
startling ducks, sturgeon, water moccasins—
or that he couldn’t zoom the bottom scaring
mossy flatheads and buffalo, always seeking
the fresh, because no one on shore
knew for the longest time he existed,
or how he would be dragged ashore.

How he would be photographed, and made
famous by scrawny people craving his story
like a drug, eager to see a creature traveling
a hundred miles a day, owning the murk,
nudging toward the source, helping them believe
in sharks moving big in the swirl,
making progress—until the huge narrowed
and limits crowded close in Alton,

where pretty much everyone learns to face
what for so long they refused to see.