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.

Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor's art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master's own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour'd falls, unnotic'd all his worth,
Deny'd in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas'd by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend's remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

This poem is in the public domain.

Raymond Luczak performs his ASL poem “Otters,” with voiceover and subtitles in English and ASL Gloss.

In English and ASL gloss


in a documentary
they dove in
into the burble
of river, braiding
around each other
their combed fur
shining in the sun
their eyes twinkling
watching them
I wished my hearing siblings
had been more like them
always pulling me in
to cavort with them

[ASL gloss]

me watch-watch d-o-c-u-m-e-n-t-a-r-y
{creature-wriggle creature-wriggle}
water {cascade-left-right-down}
{creature-dive-down creature-rise-up
fur-lining-arms-chest} wet
sun {on-me}
me-wish hearing brother-sister
{creature-dive-down creature-rise-up}
join play-play

Copyright © 2023 by Raymond Luczak. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Two years into anorexia recovery, 
when I begin to miss dying more than ever, 
my cat begins to hide. 
She disappears for hours and I find her 
hammocked in the lining of my couch. 
She has hollowed it out with her teeth 
and stares at me through cobwebbed eyes. 

I am startled at my own anger. 
After all the time and love I’ve given her, 
I can’t forgive her turning away like this. 
My partner reminds me that cats 
do not know how to be cruel, 
but they do know survival and fear. 
Each day, I reach into the dark 
mouth of the couch and pull her, 
claws and all, back into life. 

Weeks later, she dies with no one home. 
I discover the body and the urge to blame 
myself glows hot in my chest. 
How could I let her die 
in an empty house? 
How could I be so cruel. 

On the drive to donate her body, 
my partner apologizes with every breath. 
We pull over and he cries into my coat, 
How could I let this happen? 
And I know that if he feels guilty too, 
maybe the blame belongs to neither of us. 

This is the person who tried 
to breathe life back into the cat’s corpse, 
without realizing what he was doing. 
He did it because his instincts told him to, 
because every cell in his body is good. 
For weeks, the memory will make him 
shiver, gag, rinse the moment from his mouth. 

This is the person who gave everything 
to keep me alive, when letting me die 
was the easiest thing to do. 
He never stopped looking for me 
when I hid in the hollows of myself and my heart 
became a shadowy hallway of locked doors. 

This is the person who, if I died 
as the doctor said I would, 
would surely blame himself, 
and I would bang my phantom fists 
against the plexiglass of the living world, 
screaming No! 

I did not die. 
And when I was stuck in the hospital, 
sobbing as I pictured him living our life alone, 
I wrote him a letter asking how 
he could ever forgive me. 
He wrote back saying I would 
rather miss you for a while 
than miss you forever. 

In the car now, he asks how 
we’ll ever survive this 
and I say Together. 

Copyright © 2024 by Nen G. Ramirez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 11, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.