“fishers of the morning” (poem)

Compost '92

My senior year studying in England included a contemporary Latin American history class with an America-loathing Marxist. A little unglossed Latin American history can go a long, long way toward ruining your day.

I still love many things about this poem, however dramatic, emphatic and full of chest-thumping self-importance. Oh, very young, indeed. And here I’m talking about me, and not the America-hating Marxist. Though could be him, too.

This original poem, my first ever published, appeared in Issue 1/Winter 1992 of compost, a Boston-area arts/literary journal that folded after 12 years.


fishers of the morning

Across the fitted sky they pin up boats to start the morning,

And then lowering the first long nets, then pulling up the sun;

And when they’re through:

A man walks straight and silent out into the early blue.

He moves: this particle of time to pass, a finger touching to the glass

Beneath the hint of half-cut moon that haunts the pink horizon.


And here the right is all at fault

And then the left is all at fault,

And somewhere back behind

The center has long fallen out

To launch a space for the extremes:

And on outside edges, things exist

With complicated names; but

Izquierda o derecha, que no es importante –

People die in both directions

And the death is much the same:


They come in through the night

And then they shut it back behind them,

And in the mornings lives are emptied out

Of parts they can’t reclaim.

Left in woods and found as buried bones

Of 26 such bodies

Brimming over with the dirt from years

Of hopeful lies withholding tears –

Because the military, it appears

Patently prefers no little displays of emotion.


They say: the money trickles down from trees

Of telephones and coffee,

Copper mines and used canals:

But in the foreign student stores

It seems Marx never holds the gun,

And la gente would have won

If the gringo’s trees were fallen

And the leaves had never come.


A man walks off into the glass, his lungs fill up with salt.

His eyes bulge like the great, weird fish:

Yes, I suspect that he will drown –

And across the fitted sky they’ll drop their nets to start the morning,

Haul him up in early blue out of the half-cut red horizon:

His fingers clutching after straws that he could never find.

And then he looks at nothing for a while and the fishers close his eyes.


Sometimes there are questions

About meaning in our lives,

At the ends of afternoons

After the miles of nets and fish:

You pull them in, you throw them out,

You pull them in and then –

All you really have is rope

And not much else to do with it.

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