Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Poetry Corner

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By Norah Christianson

Sometimes a Man Lets You Know Him
By Norah Pollard

The lobsters, blue-black, copper and green,
lie listless at the bottom of the tank.
Only the one in the corner is frantic to get out.
He climbs on the backs of the others, feelers
waving wildly, he climbs and falls back and
climbs again and falls back again.
Peace be to you, lobster.

And here’s friendly old Max who sells the fish.
Behind him, through the window of the swinging door, 
I can see the hanging sides of mottled beef—
the white and yellow fat, the blooded pinks and purples—
immense flesh-flowers from a strange plain.

Max is out from behind the counter,
sizing up the display. His hair sprouts out
from under his baseball cap like small white wings.
The sheen of fish scales rings his wrists.
His blood-smudged white butcher coat comes
to his ankles, for Max is a short man. He’ll often say,
“I’m small, but the oyster is my world!”
Always laughing, that Max.

Under glass, on ice, the salmon, grouper, cod and catfish
lie in rows. The bass have kept their heads, their black rubbery
mouths downturned or resting open showing needle teeth.
Max stands in front of the lobster tank, arms hanging
slightly forward like a bear’s. I hail him with
“Max, how goes it?” expecting to chat.
I know him. We often chat. I know
he survived a kid-beating, hooch-hound father
as well as the Korean War, married late, fathered five,
won the lottery for $3,000 in 2013,
found a human finger bone in a pig’s stomach
and keeps it on his desk,
wears blood on his sleeve,
sells meat and fish to fat folks all day long. 

He smiles slightly
and continues looking in the tank.
“They’re pretty sleepy today,” I say. He only nods.
Here and there a lobster slowly waves a claw
as though drowning in a dream.
The frantic one climbs the glass corner, falls back.
Max turns to me, eyes dark wells of pity.
“They make me sad,” he says.

                        ~  ~  ~  ~

You don’t know what a man is.
You take the bits you see and you
puzzle them together.
The pieces move. They change. New bits.
Each one a small revelation.

You don’t know what a man is
until he shows you his sorrow—
for the animals he butchers and
the fish rolling in the sea’s cold sway and
the rusted weather-wasted swing set and
the war dead and
the survivors of war and 
the parrots who suffer through 
the winter snow and for
the snow and for
that portrait of Marilyn Monroe and for
the blue blood of the lobster and for
its green-gold grief.

You don’t know a man until you see
the compass of his compassion.
Then you know. 

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