The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told (narrated by James Tate)

No scribbler could want a better reader than my friend James Tate. With unerring–uncanny–taste, he has found every nuance I intended in this poem. I urge you to seek out his own work here on Vimeo. You’ll thank me for pulling your coat.


“I believe we are at the end of nature.” –Bill McKibben,
“Reflections (The End of Nature),” The New Yorker
(September 11, 1989), 50

It’s warm for late October (some say too warm);
in the city a stubborn summer lingers on,
a trick of heat, maybe, trapped in stone,
beneath a canopy of jaundiced rose
stretching north from Ambrose Light past Harlem
like a vast and decomposing fish.

Here on this farm, at least, an hour beyond
the reach of that sickly iridescence,
miles from the two-handed engine of cities,
far enough from any place of consequence
to elude those intimations of an end,
we preserve the illusion of purity.

This pond: air rich with the damp smell of silence,
still warm now with a setting sun, surface
a damascened inverted tapestry, bottom
dark and dense, velvety and innocent,
stumps and tufts of grass submerged along the verge
where fry and a sleeker shadow slide among them.

I’ve come to the edge here, with a rod and lure,
but it’s not exactly fish I’m after:
in part I’ve come to marvel at how sure
I am no clichéd boot will snag my line,
to eavesdrop on the call and answers of the frogs–
the “GUL(P)!” and the echoing chorus of gul(p)s–

quicken to these squawks and caws, these hoarse croaks,
as I make my cast (wrists just right this time)
and watch the yearning arc, yellow-lure-drawn
toward the clump of half-sunk tangled vine
(the labyrinthine lair of the small-mouth),
reluctant to come to the end of the line.

“Plop!” And as if on cue the Great Blue Heron,
in plain sight all the while to my surprise,
begins to stir, to rise, a great new leaf unfolding,
(“Now mark me, how I will undo myself”),
a regal rising, purple mantle spreading,
folds his neck, then wing and wing and–flight!

For a moment we’d stood there in a row,
the two-legged bait, the arc, the lure, the heron,
and, “Plonk!”–released from his dark repose,
he rose, gathering light, banked between the horns
of that long-dead tree, on his left a crow,
his right another, banked away again and–gone!

Breaths of fine mist rise from the pond like whispers,
and the afterimage of his outstretched wings
hangs in the chilled air like an echo.

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