Barbara Saunier

Give a Man a Fish


Give a Man a Fish

Whether he will eat for only today
or for his whole life through, the figure tucked
inside a carapace of Carhartts the next hole over
shoals the fish the bayou gives him
on the ice around his feet. Cold blood
will stir their gills again in time to meet
his knife. But for me, feeding

is little cause to fish. The thin shawl
of the sun, the dark glove of mulch
that warms the worm when all other earth
is seized numb — I come
for the humility, to void the house where even
carpet lies. To accept the cleansing arc
of horizon in the hole’s five-inch rim.

I ruche another worm onto the hook. In spite of me,
each tug on the line ticks desire. No doubt
the crows overhead would puzzle over
my technique. Submerged pilings rankle
the barb. — Maybe my son swims
among the bluegill and the warmouth bass:
I will know him if he ever takes the bait.

I throw back the fish, keep the worm —
in spite of me, try again. If not my son in there,
my own lost skin. It must be somewhere —
mink, heron, painted turtle. I will know I’m getting close
when I catch that first fish with my teeth.


Five times I paint the same image,
with variations: a horse
granting asylum to a boy.

You wear the clothes of a much larger man, clothes
that get larger by the day. By the hour.

The hay arrives — late for second cutting
but sweet and deeply, deeply green.

Across town, a man much older than you
sits with his book and two cats — his neck and shoulders
draped in a wrap his niece has made.

In the morning, five deer break from shelter
in the slough. Their white tails startle
the shorn soybean field.

A neighbor comes unbidden and unannounced
with a shovel and a sack of Quikrete
to reset the listing mail-box post.

You sit on a chair in the shower and let
the water run over you.

Starlings gather in the cottonwood, their brassy
Hitchcock chatter belying your vulnerability.
And your grace.

A woman dark inside her fringed hood
walks four big dogs and pushes
an aging Airedale in a stroller.

Before clearing out your refrigerator,
I stand in the shower and let
the water run over me.

The brick mason on his padded knees
celebrates the circumference of the labyrinth.
And its center.

We wheel you out to the end of the jetty, where
you throw a key into the ocean.

From the pillow, your voice rises
with intonations of some totem animal. We can tell
you’re singing — and join in.

In the belly of a pile of grass clippings and leaves,
compost begins to breathe.

BARBARA SAUNIER has published in numerous reviews and journals, including Cream City Review, Spoon River, Poet Lore, and Nimrod Int’l. Her work also placed first in The MacGuffin 16th National Poet Hunt. Since retiring from Grand Rapids (MI) Community College, she lives quietly with her horses, cats, and one good dog.