He sets out from Cape Elizabeth on a little skiff
into the silvery Atlantic at dawn;
несчастливый, he whispers, and the salty wind
throws the word against a cliff.
His curse, he swears, is gone.
He dreams of fighting fish, of yellow fins,
of something more than mottled cod.
In afternoon, a bite: too strong to reel.
I’ll take you by surprise, the young man thinks.
He settles in and prays to God
that his fish will equal many meals,
that Gretzky will prevail at the rink.
I can pull you, fish, but I will let you tire.
He eats a bit of bread and takes a final look
into the deep.
The black of the sea meets the black of the sky;
the moon hangs, an empty fishhook,
and the young man holds the line and sleeps.
He’s awakened by a pull, a smack
of nose and bone against the stern;
she’s pulling further yet from shore.
Blood dripping, palms raw, he holds fast.
She’s still on the line. His feet stand firm.
Tomorrow, fish. I’ll wait one day more.
The next morning sees him rise,
prepared to fight.
You will come home with me today, fish.
In his weathered palms: the line.
Sun and salt and sweat collide
on bronze muscles blessed by Helios.
The fish responds right away:
she circles and he pulls, a deep-sea tango
until she’s there beside the skiff,
blue like tokens worn by brides on wedding days,
chain-mail sapphires with a sheen of gold:
a more beautiful adversary could not exist.
Regret set in. One of us must die today, fish.
She pulls him close; his hand lands on her fin.
Behind him, the harpoon, too far to reach.
One of us must die—I am not sure I care which.
His body is broken, somewhere within,
an injury he cannot treat.
The Great One played with a broken rib in ’93.
I must be worthy of him.
His bones cry and shriek, but he will not rest.
He plunges bleeding hands into the sea
And wrestles body and fin—
She presses against his breathless chest.
He pulls her nearer still,
Weapon at hand,
And as he is about to deliver the fatal wound
Her dark eyes ****
the need to prove his worth as a man.
His fingers drop the heavy harpoon.
We are equals, fish; I cannot take your life.
I cannot sell your flesh.
I cannot catch you just to boast.
He draws his rusty knife
but cannot bring himself to thrash
the rope that binds them both.
He sits down in the boat.
*Fish, take me out to sea.
Fish, it’s you and me.
With apologies, of course, to Ernest Hemingway, with whom I share a love of polysyndeton, but not much else. I'd likely be embarrassed to publicly admit for whom this was written, although it will be quite evident to some of my friends in certain circles. :)