Colleen Michaels Poem Featured on Up The Staircase Quarterly

October 13, 2012

Writing Studio Director Colleen Michaels, founder of Montserrat’s infamous Improbable Places Poetry Tour, has one of her poems currently featured on Up The Staircase Quarterly.

Her poem, “It is Elizabeth Bishop’s Fish”, can be seen on the journal’s website: www.upthestaircase.org

Click here to read full poem:

It is Elizabeth Bishop’s fish
by Colleen Michaels

who instructs me to gut
the image of long-line fishing
I had wanted so badly to drop
into a poem about my mother
– not a tremendous poem at all –
but I wanted to pull taut this
line between mother and child
Tie us on “one long elegant line,”
I wrote. That was the victory.
But the poem hadn’t struggled at all –
An easy catch on the Bering Sea
tangled in miles of violent lines.
“Cut it loose,” Bishop
whispers from her boat.
This greedy connotation
of hook and drag
The slitting of a leatherback’s
throat is in that line.
And what of the albatrosses
who dive down famished?
All that neck pain and cursing
now caught in the net.
Mothers and daughters are all
capable of cutting so badly.
Anyone can hack at something.
But to cut clean, to fillet
the fine-boned, or better,
to catch and release, demands
clear accuracy.
“Let it catch the light
before it goes down, this first poem.”
If you must make a fish into a mother,
listen to her shallow breath in your labor,
cast further, for the venerable and battered
breath, her youth of polio and iron lung cages.
Find a use for those mentioned
flies, the greenheads,
who would bombard
you both in pregnancy.
Articulate iridescence
Long-line fishing – skill less of course,
not even fishing, -swindles
sharks for their teeth.
They drop to the floor,
eaten alive by lesser prey.
“Your mother has bite.
How dare you not stare?”
The fishing champion tsks from her craft.
Note the arc above
your mother’s dead-eye stare,
her bleached centipede scar,
a sunning, still predator
on her bad leg.
Give her a rainbow in the gasoline.
The strain of straps on the pink
two piece, edges ruffled like a carnation.
The one she wore
swimming on Cape Cod
when first pregnant with you.


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