A Poem and Art Day 2 January 1, 2014

"Untitled" 1970 Lee Bontecou

“Untitled” 1970 Lee Bontecou

The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Lee Bontecou was the artist assigned to me by Jen Ambrose on facebook and this was the piece of art I chose there. And for the New Year, I also wanted to share it here. Lee Bontecou was not an artist I had ever heard of before. She emerged in the 1960s and her work was revolutionary. She had withdrawn from the art world for a time but returned with new work in the same shades of brown, orange, orangish-brown and the like. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of her work because color. I like the colors she uses but I’m a big fan of a wider palate. The poem by Elizabeth Bishop, I had never read before I googled “poems about fish.” To me, the poem fit so well with this picture because of its description of the fish’s colors and it contrasted nicely the idea of a fish caught and trophy hung (which the mobile by Bontecou reminds me of) and one purposefully thrown back because it should be an “uncatchable fish” which reminded me of Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish (I haven’t read the book: for shame, but have seen the movie as reimagined by Tim Burton). I am especially thankful to Jen for not only introducing me to an artist completely unknown to me but also for having me find a work of art I either enjoyed or that was interesting to me. This one grabbed me for some reason and as I found the poetry to go with it, I began to formulate why. This mobile, to me, showed not only amazing talent and beauty, it seemed to be waiting for its story. In fact, it had no name, no title, even. Please don’t forget to visit Melanie to see what she is sharing and check her comments for others’ contributions.