Another poem from Gift Horse


You can’t have a proper meal without a fish,
I figure. Exact species doesn’t matter
so much as the presence of that pong of sea.
This is no jiggery, no attempt to dangle you,
dear reader, on the end of a bifurcated hook
by the flesh of your jowls, but a serious take
on the state of the fishery. And when I say
fishery, I mean the poem itself, the Grand
Bank of versification, the metaphysical
dragger net—soul reaper, clean-sweeping
instrument of harvest. There are few words
that rhyme with cod, but I know one or two
that have little to do with supreme beings,
the Big Fish, symbol of the Christ, rising
and collapsing, rising and collapsing in his tomb
like a small skiff weathering a heavy sea.
No miracle of loaves and fishes will drag
this subject from its watery grave.
It’s dead. Deep-six it. I’m tired of reading
about the Spanish or the Portuguese
and seeing rape when somebody means
plunder or hearing of some ancient
fisherman in Joe Batt’s Arm who clings
to his ancestral right to drop his line
in the bay, in the beautiful, mawkish
waves that must weep themselves empty
at the thought of all this scrapping over scraps.
Poor little scraps, the old women say
of children they consider poorly fed or poorly raised.
Oh, those St. John’s Roman Catholics
with their Good Friday fish and chips.
Fresh fish isn’t fresh if it’s frozen, unless
it’s fresh-frozen. You see the distinction.
They feed the industry that eats them.
They feed on the industry that beats
them down. One time, I saw Christ
in a fisherman’s guernsey, collapsed
on the steps of a downtown alley,
fishing for scattered change,
or else it was some bum with locks
of tangled kelp who looked washed up,
a bloated corpse on a pebbled beach.
He clutched an empty cup and damned me
in a voice full of hidden reefs. I sped up
and gripped the keys in my pocket
between the knuckles so the points
stuck out like sunkers, and thought
of my great-uncle who didn’t want to be
a fisherman, and didn’t want to be,
apparently. They found him in a puddle
of his own bleeding offal in the kitchen.
Of course it’s awful to talk of such things,
but it buoys me to think I’m still alive,
having slipped free of the infection
that held me like a drowning man
who clings to a man that is drowning.
I would prefer, at this point, to point
toward the Salmon of Knowledge, the fish
with brains to beat out brawn and nets.
Its flesh so tenderly tastes of banned fruit,
nakedness and exile from the mainstream.
What would he make of all this? What
I wouldn’t give to taste his oracular gills
and know something beyond these shallows,
know why, when I put a codfish in a poem,
it writhes and bucks its body like a fish
out of water, like a fish about to be fried.


Reprinted from Gift Horse, Véhicule Press 2011.

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