Resources on poetry by the poets themselves

Encounter

Encounter

Cyclopterus Lumpus, the Lumpsucker:
‘the male renowned for his solicitude’
says the Observer’s Book of Sea Fishes

explaining how while the mother draws back
to deep water, the sea-hen minds the nest

in the frontier territory between tides.

Locking himself to the rock below low water

he sprays the eggs with bubbles

of sea frothy with air, week after week
as summer ripens. When the tide is out
he crouches in the shade and keeps them cool

spraying them with water stored within.
‘At this time they are most vulnerable
to birds, rats, and other predators.’

Picking up what pots he can, early on the tide,
the sea clear as a child’s eye

skirting Ogof Morlas and the kittiwake rock
the fisherman sees something unusual floating –
lumpy black, a sack of something or a rubbish bag –

floating on the ebb out from the island.

He throttles back and lets the water slow him.

The blotch resolves itself into a fish

dark, lead-blue black

drifting, head down, apparently dead.
It’s round as a plate, two handspans across.

He scoops it lightly aboard

and knows, at first touch

it is alive, but without panic or resistance;
just a quickening, an awareness

inside the spiky carapace, the old bag of its skin.

He sits it doll-like on the hauler box, upright

not flopping or floundering like any other fish

unperturbed, but adjusting

like an old man coming unstartled from a drowse
in his own house, or a thinker, absorbed,

leaving a library for full sun and bustle.

Despite the black leather with its seven rows

of studs, the candy-striped Mohican crest

of fin and tail, a seriousness

and on impulse, he bends his face

level to look closer

to identify, and sees the fish

swivel its eyes

to look straight back at him.

Not large like whiting or bass

staring as though they hardly believed in themselves

but serious, controlled, intelligent
returning his gaze as if it knows what it’s about

fitting the man into its pattern of sense.

Perhaps it is exhaustion, dying

that frees it from fear, (how light,

how scuffed and drained of shine its skin)
or the genes’ programming

to outface danger so that they survive.

Gently he lowers it to the water

and watches as slowly, purposefully

the lumpsucker sinks

deliberately down, into the dark.
The sounder here shows fifteen fathoms.

Christine Evans

Published by Seren, 2003

(By kind permission of the author)