Two Salmon

Two Salmon

I saw your beloved in Russell Square, and she was weeping.

Russell Square

Their dead weights balance him: suspending one
on either side, he carries down the fish
he must have killed out on the salmon-run
here where the river slows to water-wash
and salt, and a lazy tide, so in the sun
they glitter from a distance, and they flash
like things that could be animals and raw,
each with its whole weight taken on the jaw.

Two salmon, closer up, and not alive
in their suits of miraculous chainmail
fitted like skin; not enough to survive
out in the parched and dazzling, unreal
element of noise and wind; they arrive
with blood-flecks on the white and pewter scales
along their bellies, each one the same size,
these fish with their uncloseable dead eyes.

I nod to him, smile: it’s as if what swings
so heavily from each arm were a new
option, a way of going about things;
for a moment anyhow, the fish are two
lives, and he has his choice of them; he brings
one and the other steadily into
the world with its drizzle of light, its poles
upright between sandbanks and sea. Two souls.

I look and look: eventually, he’s gone;
and maybe all of this was wrong, in fact:
remember how two bodies can have one
soul between them, with that soul intact
through all the very worst that can be done
or said; they swim against a cataract
over and over, light sheathing them from above,
two bodies with one single life to prove.

Know all the worst, and see the worst thing whole:
one life neglected by you or betrayed
somewhere beyond its own help or control,
exposed and shivering and all afraid;
walk in the streets, and see a crying soul
that once this body and another made;
look at it without sympathy or surprise;
look at it with your sore, wide-open eyes.

You, meaning me. Because of my own dread
of open gills, fish-scales, and the lithe shine
over packed muscle when it’s dried and dead,
the salmon and the fisherman combine
remorselessly in my remorseful head
to plead and punish; again and again
they find me, and I find them, when we go
looking and looking. There is nothing to know.

– Peter McDonald (published in the TLS) via Spencer Alley