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,
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.
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."
From Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, translated and edited by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of the author and Story Line Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
Before this day I loved like an animal loves a human, with no way to articulate how my bones felt in bed or how a telephone felt so strange in my paw. O papa— I called out to no one— but no one understood. I didn’t even. I wanted to be caught. Like let me walk beside you on my favorite leash, let my hair grow long and wild so you can comb it in the off-hours, be tender to me. Also let me eat the meals you do not finish so I can acclimate, climb into the way you claim this world. Once, I followed married men: eager for shelter, my fur curled, my lust freshly showered. I called out, Grief. They heard, Beauty. I called out, Why? They said, Because I can and will. One smile could sustain me for a week. I was that hungry. Lithe and giddy, my skin carried the ether of a so-so self-esteem. I felt fine. I was fine, but I was also looking for scraps; I wanted them all to pet me. You think because I am a woman, I cannot call myself a dog? Look at my sweet canine mind, my long, black tongue. I know what I’m doing. When you’re with the wrong person, you start barking. But with you, I am looking out this car window with a heightened sense I’ve always owned. Oh every animal knows when something is wrong. Of this sweet, tender feeling, I was wrong, and I was right, and I was wrong.
Copyright © 2018 by Analicia Sotelo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
I release the earth and I imprison the skies. I fall down in order to stay faithful to the light, in order to make the world ambiguous, fascinating, changeable, dangerous, in order to announce the steps beyond. The blood of the gods is still fresh on my clothes. A seagull's scream echoes through my pages. Let me just pack up my words and leave.
From Mihyar of Damascus: His Songs by Adonis. Copyright © 2008 by Adonis. Reprinted by permission of B.O.A. Editions. All rights reserved.