Beauty no longer matters. Like the barge that drifts
away from shore, life has drifted from beauty.
Everything is muddy. Even the water we drink from
the cooler is unclear-but cold. Layered up in parkas
thick gloves, and wading boots, we come to fish.
For bait, my parents had gotten some blood from a
slaughterhouse and poured it into a pan, and then
they’d frozen it, and after the blood had congealed
they’d set it all out in the sun until it had become a
skin. This is gruesome.
At home, my father hangs the catfish from a hook he
has nailed into an oak. He tears, with skinners
Detached from the fish, giving matter a tough
pornographic edge, after the fashion of naturalism
which drags up and bares only what causes sickness
After they are skint, he reaches in without pity. But
don’t overlook voluptuousness
Corn spills from their bellies, corn and blood, that
strong image of God. The head slips off. Nothing
disgusts me. I don’t raise my lips or plug my nose
when my father slices them open.
The way the Mississippi moves removes whatever
disgust. I am disposed to ugliness. Engrossed in the
dressage of flystirred and dirty fleshiness, Love has
lost its meaning. This doesn’t at all express what you
want to be seen—the inmost and unnoticed from the
depths to the reddish flush of flares to the sound of
slow-lapping waves washing coldly on broken
stones: wet, bright and unnatural; radiant because of
the far off oil refineries
Beauty is only one way.
Dynamism is another. A beaver swims by. You love
his tail. How funny it looks-like a paddle a teacher
would use to spank her pupils.
The truth is not always pretty; sometimes, it is
sweaty pores, skin and apertures-after a day of
fishing, my mother runs her water. She gets in first.
When she has finished bathing, water, sand, aster
and yellow sedge fill the tub. Then she leaves, and
my father gets in. This is the same water!
St. Perpetua covered her pussy with her robe while
a bull was goring her bloody.
Isn’t life hard enough? Beauty is so rare.
But what if I told you, you could take this air going
hard against your face, this firmamental adhesive
that has scraped up all the skittish cumulous: dim
Connemara cloth, and John Wycliffe, roaring, who
gathers up the brownish water but as suddenly
dissolves in a sensitive bird. Wherever the river
quarrels, shy cormorants dive, keeping an eye out
for whiskered, smooth-skinned fish.
Intending to catch a fish, I draw up the head of some
ancient god instead.
A snail slopes along a decaying log. Leave that one
alone. Still, I get carried away with building a fire
and by the time I’m finished, waves of heat fan the
Cypress leaves above our heads, and I am afraid.
Night—nylon river. On the other side, a refinery
tower swells. The tower and the flame relate to a
class of tempting thoughts and perhaps to a part of
our nature that produces such unclean thought, too
unromantic, too big, too hard, too strong. Foam
frothed up from churning has a distinctive vinegar
Inside the station wagon is hot, therefore I lie among
rocks beside the fire and waves, washing orange
EVA floats back and forth. For my pillow, I use a
stone. I pray for detachment, but not from suffering.
Suffering may help you.
When morning comes, I walk across concrete and
quarry stone, which has been tinted red with iron
from rebar and broken brick. I can’t see the other
side. A Maersk-line container ship sits at the river-
end of a walkway.
Lichens and bunch grass shoot up from the asphalt
cracks in thickets. I am not disgusted by decay. Eat
and drink the river, its insects, worms, and feces.
Nothing is inedible. I am a child again. I was never
all that interested in fishing, that was for my parents.
I wanted adventure and irideous insects held under
glass. So I went kicking brack, near the river’s edge,
boots just below the surface.
A slick, lichen mat grows underwater.
I swallowed river the way I swallowed my mother’s
homemade wine, which gets me high but which
tastes like sand and shit, and dark gathered in and
almost closed. And there was nothing to hold. Until
I went down, caught a stone and pulled myself back
up. O. God, all my sudden swallows, my aspirant
face. I was afraid, but I didn’t tell my parents. You
have to be patient to tease out meaning.
My father groans domestically. Listen, you have to
be patient with those small bones, he says. He spits
them out with meal and grease.
After the plate is washed, will you eat?
No, it’s in my head. It was dirty and that idea is still
in my head. You should throw away these things.
Ugliness has no function except to act as a foil to
Elizabeth Bishop didn’t seem squeamish when she
wrote “The Fish.” Her poem is not ugly though and
she ends it with a rainbow. Some would like to
vituperate all rainbows; others seem interested in
seeing life that way.
When my father reels in the line, his hook is empty.
Minnows have nibbled away the bait.
They say the Great Egret displays his plumes to get
a mate. Beauty, when you get down to it, is just
about sex and food. This makes you feel like a fool.
A fly lands on cutbait. Poetry may mean nothing
more than this: coarse prose, scummy earthworms
An egret hears the little toad chorus and stalks the
Bruce Alford is a newspaper columnist and reviews poetry for Alabama Writer’s Forum. He has published fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. His first collection, Terminal Switching, was published in 2007 (Elk River Review Press). He received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama and was an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama from 2007-2011. Before working in academia, he was an inner-city missionary and journalist. He currently lives in Hammond, Louisiana.