fish lady

this first appeared at The Poet Head last year, 1 of 6 in my first publication. i was grateful then & remain grateful to Chris Murray for accepting my work— her decision gave me the confidence to pursue more poems about Jeju & to push my poems to as wide an audience as possible. this poem is part of an ever expanding collection of poems about Jeju i have called An Island goes to the World, which i hope to one day publish with anyone who will take it, someday, over the rainbow. this poem has a different rendering from the original: punctuation & a loose rhyme scheme.

 

Fish lady

the Jeju grandma who squats outside the chiropractor
sells gold bream, kelp & mackerel piled in little blue baskets.
the lamppost is her backrest, the pavement is her chair.
her back’s bent like an Oreum. she must be in a lot of pain.
most of the day she naps with the fishes. i never saw her sell a thing
& i can’t cook fish in the café : it makes a dreadful stink.

the air in Hallim town is thick with brine & salt.
it comes from the sea hidden in netted hauls of Jeju cuttlefish
red freckled tentacles like broken fingers & heads like bone china vases.
her bones are rusty as a trawlers’ nuts & bolts.
her knuckles have been bleached with salt & cold.
she’s wrapped up in a microfiber blanket, she has no Gore-Tex clothes.

her veins bulge out of tissue flesh, like highways on a map
the luggage of her grueling years drags underneath her chin.
after working seven days a week, outdoors in the fields
or on the wet street, since she was a teen
the elements have buffeted her geography’s shape
inside & out. we can travel her hardships without a compass needle.

there is no son or daughter to help her lug the stock.
she has mothered. be sure of that. suckled & smacked them into citizens.
they’ve been consumed with Seoul’s nightly attractions: pork
& soju. disfigured by charts & indexes, the etiquette of the salary man
: the boss says drink! we say how much? the boss says jump! we say from where!
if only she’d not shamed their island roots they’d be less worse for wear.

on Sunday all the shops & vendors on the street stop trade.
she goes to church & tends the spirit then goes home to tend the soil.
she has a little garden behind her little house beside the ocean.
she grows a row of cabbages, spring onions & garlic
: in autumn for the umpteenth time she’ll make kimchi for the year ahead
: the fuel to endure again the grind stone of cold & salt in the harbour town.

one day, i’ll go to the chiropractor & she won’t be outside
& her fish will not have been caught & birth prodigious shoals.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. pseudonymous says:

    Some day the fish lady will be asleep among her kind once again until then one can only marvel at your mindblowing poetry— my favorite part triangulated/bounced around in my mind like proof of time travel or similar to what dogs do when they put their noses to the ground:

    grueling years drags underneath her chin.
    after working seven days a week, outdoors in the fields
    or on the wet street, since she was a teen
    the elements have buffeted her geography’s shape
    inside & out. we can travel her hardships without a compass needle

    It reads like a holographic inscription. I dont need to say that it works well for a portrait obv.

    1. Thanks a bunch. Lot of old timers like her about here. The struggle of life is plainly etched, if only it were more holographic. Though i’m not sure why that would be an improvement.

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