Poem introduction

I used to be quite confident I knew what a Goose Fish was, I mean I could identify what I am calling a Goose Fish if we were to walk on the shore and find one. But I realised that my verbal notion of its identity comes from some old gent' who when walking along the shore, I said "What's that?" and he said "That's a Sculpin, but the fishermen call it a Goose Fish." It's a very horrifying creature; mostly head, and of the head, mostly mouth, with a great shovel-full of teeth sticking out the lower jaw. Then, ten years later it occurred to me to look up Sculpin, and there was a picture in the dictionary nothing like this fish at all, and no guarantee that fishermen call it a Goose Fish, either, or that the old gentleman ever existed either for that matter. Anyhow, if it wasn't called a Goose Fish before, it is now.

The Goose Fish

The Goose Fish

On the long shore, lit by the moon
To show them properly alone,
    Two lovers suddenly embraced
So that their shadows were as one.
The ordinary night was graced
For them by the swift tide of blood   
That silently they took at flood,   
And for a little time they prized
   Themselves emparadised.

Then, as if shaken by stage-fright   
Beneath the hard moon's bony light,   
They stood together on the sand   
Embarrassed in each other's sight   
But still conspiring hand in hand,   
Until they saw, there underfoot,
As though the world had found them out,   
The goose fish turning up, though dead,
   His hugely grinning head.

There in the china light he lay,   
Most ancient and corrupt and grey.   
They hesitated at his smile,
Wondering what it seemed to say
To lovers who a little while
Before had thought to understand,   
By violence upon the sand,
The only way that could be known   
   To make a world their own.

It was a wide and moony grin
Together peaceful and obscene;
They knew not what he would express,  
  So finished a comedian
He might mean failure or success,   
But took it for an emblem of
Their sudden, new and guilty love
To be observed by, when they kissed,   
   That rigid optimist.

So he became their patriarch,
Dreadfully mild in the half-dark.
His throat that the sand seemed to choke,   
His picket teeth, these left their mark   
But never did explain the joke
That so amused him, lying there
While the moon went down to disappear   
Along the still and tilted track
   That bears the zodiac.


'The Goose Fish' from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (University of Chicago Press, 1977), copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov, used by permission of Margaret Nemerov.

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