Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Fish


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 and 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

*image Montery Bay Aquarium


Kenza said...

Oh the rainbow!

A Cuban In London said...

Beautiful. :-)

Greetings from London.

Robin said...

As I read the words, I was drawn in by the poem's power - yet, dreaded what might be the outcome....then, I reasoned with myself - Yoli would not have a post with a sad ending...the fish WILL LIVE! I read on - and so he did. BEAUTIFUL!


♥ Robin ♥

rochambeau said...

Hey Yoli,
This is one of the most moving poems I have ever read and I will not soon forget! It was hard to read, yet I did it & moves me down deep. Don't know if could read it again. Thank you for sharing something so memorable!!

The header of your daughter at Christmas is so beautiful and enchanting!

Wanted to let you know that my beautiful mother died in Oct. It was rough going at the end, and I can relate even more to you now, as I became her nurse. She is at peace and most days I am very brave and keep moving forward.

Love to you and your family Yoli!

Yoli said...

Constance, thank you for your sweet words and my deepest condolences for your loss.