“It is Elizabeth Bishop’s Fish” by Colleen Michaels

It is Elizabeth Bishop’s Fish

who instructs me to gut

the image of long-line fishing

I had wanted so badly to drop

into a poem about my mother

– not a tremendous poem at all –

but I wanted to pull taut this

line between mother and child

tie us on “one long elegant line,”

I wrote. That was the victory.

But the poem hadn’t struggled at all –

An easy catch on the Bering Sea

tangled in miles of violent lines.

“Cut it loose,” Bishop

whispers from her boat.

This greedy connotation

of hook and drag.

The slitting of a leatherback’s

throat is in that line.

And what of the albatrosses

who dive down famished?

All that neck pain and cursing

now caught in the net.

Mothers and daughters are all

capable of cutting so badly.

Anyone can hack at something.

But to cut clean, to fillet

the fine-boned, or better,

to catch and release, demands

clear accuracy.

“Let it catch the light

before it goes down, this first poem.”

If you must make a fish into a mother,

listen to her shallow breath in your labor.

Cast further, for the venerable and battered

breath, her youth of polio and iron lung cages.

Find a use for those mentioned

flies, the greenheads,

who would bombard

you both in pregnancy.

Articulate iridescence.

Long-line fishing – skill less of course,

not even fishing, -swindles

sharks for their teeth.

They drop to the floor,

eaten alive by lesser prey.

“Your mother has bite.

How dare you not stare?”

The fishing champion tsks from her craft.

Note the arc above

your mother’s dead-eye stare,

her bleached centipede scar,

a sunning, still predator

on her bad leg.

Give her a rainbow in the gasoline.

The strain of straps on the pink

two piece, edges ruffled like a carnation,

the one she wore

swimming on Cape Cod

when first pregnant with you.

Colleen Michaels

Colleen Michaels

Colleen Michaels is always busy. She will be in charge of poetry on the trollies at this year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival in May. She will not only be recruiting poets, she will be reading her own work. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies including The Paterson Literary Review, Blue Collar Review, The Mom Egg, Paper Nautilus, Stoneboat, Up the Staircase Quarterly,  Constellations, and Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Love and Lesbian Marriage. Her poetry has been commissioned as an installation at Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts. She was a finalist for the Split This Rock Poetry Competition and the recipient of an honorable mention in the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize.