Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting…
AT THE FISHHOUSES Elizabeth Bishop
What is it that starts a poem? What rupture –
a fish tugging at a hook? What rapture –
the seventh wave breaking as it should?
Consider Elizabeth Bishop:
fatherless at one; her mother certified
four years later; taken from her grandparents
in Nova Scotia by her father’s parents
in Massachusetts; a Vassar girl
with a private income; a painter
as well as a poet. What was it that cold
evening on the fish quay in Nova Scotia
that started her poem? A favourite seal
bobbing off shore, to which she sang Baptist hymns?
The Atlantic? The herring scales and the cod
that adorned every plank? The Lucky Strikes
she smoked with the old man mending his nets
‘in the gloaming almost invisible’,
her grandfather’s friend?