Mark vs Cancer

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish

and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.

He didn't fight.

He hadn't fought at all.

He hung a grunting weight,

battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips

like ancient wallpaper,

and its pattern of darker brown

was like wallpaper:

shapes like full-blown roses

stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,

fine rosettes of lime,

and infested

with tiny white sea-lice,

and underneath two or three

rags of green weed hung down.

While his gills were breathing in

the terrible oxygen

--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--

I thought of the coarse white flesh

packed in like feathers,

the big bones and the little bones,

the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,

and the pink swim-bladder

like a big peony.

I looked into his eyes

which were far larger than mine

but shallower, and yellowed,

the irises backed and packed

with tarnished tinfoil

seen through the lenses

of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little,
but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping

of an object toward the light.

I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,

and then I saw
that from his lower lip

--if you could call it a lip--
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,

or four and a wire leader

with the swivel still attached,

with all their five big hooks

grown firmly in his mouth.

A green line, frayed at the end

where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap

when it broke and he got away.

Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom

trailing from his aching jaw.

I stared and stared

and victory filled up

the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow

around the rusted engine

to the bailer rusted orange,

the sun-cracked thwarts,

the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

And I let the fish go.


(Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets, and this is one of her most accessible poems. Hope you enjoyed it!)

3 comments:

Rappster said...

Here's a poem that I loved so much that I memorized the first stanza. It goes like this...

One fish, two fish,
red fish, blue fish
-Dr Seuss

Tyler said...

She seems like a pretty good poet and all, but maybe someone should tell her about the whole rhyming thing. I think Ryan has a better grasp of genius rhymes than Ms. Bishop!

Just kidding! I liked the poem and I marvel at how interesting one short moment in time can be when described so exquisitely. Plus, I'm glad she let the fish go!

Danalin said...

Beautiful. Felt like I was in the moment with her. If you don't know this already, I love to fish. Just ask Ty. :) Kind of an on-going joke, but I really do love to fish and I love how she captured such a simple moment and made it important.