Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ice Fishing

Ice Fishing

Once the sea lived
wild or smooth, clashed or glass, 
with the sun to wrap or unwrap
in fog fichus, gulls for windchimes, lightning
twisting like time in the mercury sky
until you came
with the endless freeze.

For years now
I've been sitting
on the ice
above the tiny hole
in your roof
line baited, watching your pale
streamed shape below

swallow lesser shadows,
just a hint of mottle, grey and white,
is all you show of your famished dive;
a tug to tease me,
an empty hook, blinking above
your bouquets of bones.

I built a shelter once
but it's long since fallen down.
Still I sit, winter's constant fingers
peeling my face, a rictus on my lips
snowclouds blowing my eyes
to stone, bruise-blue cracked ice
under ravelled wool. Will you come

ghost fish, sweet engine of the kill,
to look at me when I am
dead of cold, pause unbeing's
restless body, wink at this stiff
shell with your black spirit eye
before you push away
to the next fool's line and pole?

~May 2018

for Shay's    Edward Emerson Simmons

This poem needs editing and work, but the time is sadly not there today, so I ask everyone's indulgence with its rough state.

fichu: noun, plural fichus [fish-ooz; French] 1.a woman's kerchief or shawl, generally triangular in shape, worn draped over the shoulders or around the neck with the ends drawn together on the breast.

Images : Night, 1889, and High Sea, 1895, by Edward Emerson Simmons   Public Domain


  1. The rest of us only wish that we could write so roughly. The fichus are a master stroke--how did you ever come up with that? That whole line is just stellar. I love the whole depiction of the speaker becoming less vital, less herself, less able to move as the poem goes on and the contrast of the "streamed shape" moving, teasing, mocking, always just out of reach, offering just enough of an occasional tug to keep the poor speaker there, freezing to death. This will stay with me all day, so vivid and sad and sharp are the images you've created. Thanks so much for setting the bar so high for my little challenge, Joy.

  2. ps--I always notice your tags, which are always tres cool, Madame.

  3. I love the labels too. I am gripped by the image of the sitter beside the "tiny hole in your roof", waiting for years, slowly freezing, and the "black spirit eye" of the elusive being beneath the ice. Wonderfully done, Joy. Not rough at all.

  4. I always think of Colonial times when the word fichu is used. This is a different poem - a bit eerie but not. I picture the writer slowly turning into ice, sad and lonely, the fish still bobbing about the line suspended through the ice into the water.

  5. If this is rough then I love it in its rough state. If you were to change anything I'd like to see that as a separate document. I've been reading a new translation of a book by Francis Ponge, who wrote diaristic works--there's a certain amount of repetition in the different parts, each of which are dated. Since your piece involves the passage of time and such delicious language, I think variations of this poem would be of interest to a reader like me.

    1. Thanks Mark--it's a great concept, I think, to work and rework apiece in different moods and lights. I have so little time to write these days that it's all I can do to get one version down, I'm afraid--but maybe someday. Thanks so much for your interest.

  6. Maybe this feels rough to you because you have been in the moment of staring down that ice-hole for some time (I wager) and the complex mundo is so hard to fish up entire in one poem. You come damn close to it ... so refreshing to see you out of the 55 corset if just this time, for how does one take full measure of a frozen sea? I began in reading this seeing an other who is vanishing before one's eyes, but then there is the freezing feeling that perhaps it is the other way around, as death comes looking for the speaker. My line was "ghost fish, sweet engine of the kill" -- a finned immensity, friend. There's only one fish like this in the sea, but hooking it, how much more will we yet see in your deep maturity? One can only bait up and wait.

    1. Yes, it felt very liberating and faintly sinful to gush on past the 55 mark. ;_) There's nothing subtle at all about this one, and it feels bare to me, which is why I called it rough, but you are perhaps right that I've been too close too long to adequately wrap words around what's going on any more. That Leviathon has defeated greater pens than mine. Thanks B, for all your encouragement and insight over the years--it has been always, and continues to be, of great value to me.

  7. Joy, I think this is one of the best poems about the cold, and fishing, I have ever read! I was transported to that place, I knew that fish for brief seconds.

  8. Wow! You've really captured the spirit and sound of the sea in
    'wild or smooth, clashed or glass,
    with the sun to wrap or unwrap'
    and the wonderful'gulls for windchimes'.
    I've never been fishing but I have a strong image in my head from the lines:
    'just a hint of mottle, grey and white,
    is all you show of your famished dive;
    a tug to tease me,
    an empty hook, blinking above
    your bouquets of bones'.

  9. Yes, I loved this write...I know little of ice fishing, but your poem gave me insight to the "sport." Just a wonderful poem!

  10. Knowing well the winter I have to love this, the metaphor of capture that ghostfish... the struggle that some find soothing... No I would not fish, and to me it would be just like this, just like living... Those shelters you pull out on the ice I have seen in Northern Sweden, and I could accept fishing inside such a house.

  11. From a literal standpoint, you had me with the tight, but highly eclectic images that replace traditional takes on "ice fishing" - which makes it all the more attention grabbing. But of course, this piece, at least not for me, isn't about an act of fishing - in just this sense alone. It's about the isolation, the loneliness, the alienation, the prey and predator, and how they both dissolve and dissipate and then reverse roles - and waiting on ... death? or just the games, the prelude to something perhaps equally intense - for the blood and guts, for the intestines of passion, lust, love - and for me, this mystery - I sit with and within the silvery shadows .... and it's just wonderful. Even as you may consider it rough cut, but honestly, sometimes 55 is two constricting - and not everything has to be worked to a filleted bone for the polishing of a new blade. So no, I honestly don't think I'd rework this much, if at all - I love this just as it is, am mesmerized.
    You had me at totally hooked in the second stanza - even as awesome as the first, the prelude to the étude which then streams along. Wow!


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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