Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Fish-Man poem

By overwhelming public request (ie Diane), here is the draft of the poem written according to the shaman's coat principle. I'm putting it up on the front page of web site too, to lead its own life there for a while, as this one disappears into the archives after five days:

Fish Music
For Pascale Petit

He struggles into his borrowed human skin,
the one he wears for special occasions
with the sewn-in dinner jacket and polished patent feet.
He brushes off earth and other traces of night,
smells the remnant darkness on his sleeve,
bends back the fingers that constitute his living,
and picks up the instrument. His mother is listening
in the next room, holding her breath for him,
the breath she has been saving all her adult years.

After the skin, the fish scales. One must glitter.
One must swim through the day. He flicks his tail
this way and that. He makes the first sounds,
those scraped sighs that are the sign of his well-being.
‘I’m ready,’ he says, his eyes glassy and round.
‘I’ve got my gills on. The whole amphibian kit.’

The music begins. The sea waits by the door.
Both skin and scale are glowing. The neck he wears
is just a little loose, he must tighten it.
The chin has worn away on his left side.
The music slops about inside his belly a while
then creeps upward blowing through his ears
into the room and hard against the walls.
Now he is swimming. He sees the music
floating in the tank of the room. He must practice harder.
It is his food after all. He can feel its strands
slip between his fingers, now silk, now knife.
It smells wholesome, of water, night and skin.

‘How does it sound?’ he asks her. ‘Like salt,’ she says,
‘like salt and damascene.’ Her fancy talk, he thinks.

It’s not his skin, he knows that. The dinner jacket
is of another era. Too many buttons on the waistcoat
of the flesh. Too much blood in the fibre, none of it his.
But music too is skin. He wraps it about him.
He’s hardly there: half-fish-half-man is elsewhere,
in the bone beneath a skin that’s not his own.
Each living thing has its own element, he thinks,
and even this old skin belongs to someone.

It has, in fact, received one or two very minor editions already, but I'll let it sit and dry itself out for a while. Once it has dried out it may look different and might need either editing or disposal. This blog is full of transitory, semi-public material. If it's dreadful I'll let it embarrass me in future years.


Poet in Residence said...

This is the first time I've heard of Fish Music. It's a wonderful piece of musical poetry George.

I once knew of a goldfish called Elvis. He could make quite a splash too. But no music.

James said...

Good to see Poetry reaffirming proper standards of dress! The scales are, of course, quite correct.

Details are everything when it comes to a man's clothes. Switch the scales for a wetsuit and you'd have James Bond, which would never do. Not with M holding her breath in the next room.

(as for future embarrassment, you're right to worry about the number of waistcoat buttons, but put your mind at rest)

George S said...

I do sometime wonder if fish scales are a mistake. So flashy. So vulgar. It could be a nightmare, like one of those cartoons headed, The Man Who...

I must look out my sealskin waistcoat and consider the factors, pro and contra, the Davy Crockatt hat.

Poet in Residence said...

"this blog is full of transitory [...] material"
well so is the Robinson's Ale pump, have you found it yet? I seriously hope they're looking after you properly.

ps- Don't be fobbed off with a glass of bourgeois plonk that you can get anywhere.

Diane said...

Thank you for putting up this splenid poem, George.

Pascale Petit said...

Hi George, thanks for posting this amazing poem here and on your website and for the dedication. I love its vibrancy and sureness. I'm so impressed by it. It was such a pleasure to co-tutor with you at lovely Ty Newydd. The whole course was an intensely enjoyable experience, and so gratifying to see everyone working at full pelt and producing superb work.


George S said...

Pascale, it was a great pleasure to work with you. Thank you for the company, the ideas and the splendid things to do. I hope we can work together again some time soon.