The Goose Fish

By Howard Nemerov 1920–1991 Howard Nemerov
On the long shore, lit by the moon   
To show them properly alone,   
Two lovers suddenly embraced   
So that their shadows were as one.   
The ordinary night was graced
For them by the swift tide of blood   
That silently they took at flood,   
And for a little time they prized
   Themselves emparadised.

Then, as if shaken by stage-fright   
Beneath the hard moon’s bony light,   
They stood together on the sand   
Embarrassed in each other’s sight   
But still conspiring hand in hand,   
Until they saw, there underfoot,
As though the world had found them out,   
The goose fish turning up, though dead,
   His hugely grinning head.

There in the china light he lay,   
Most ancient and corrupt and grey.   
They hesitated at his smile,
Wondering what it seemed to say
To lovers who a little while
Before had thought to understand,   
By violence upon the sand,
The only way that could be known   
   To make a world their own.

It was a wide and moony grin
Together peaceful and obscene;
They knew not what he would express,   
So finished a comedian
He might mean failure or success,   
But took it for an emblem of
Their sudden, new and guilty love
To be observed by, when they kissed,   
   That rigid optimist.

So he became their patriarch,
Dreadfully mild in the half-dark.
His throat that the sand seemed to choke,   
His picket teeth, these left their mark   
But never did explain the joke
That so amused him, lying there
While the moon went down to disappear   
Along the still and tilted track
   That bears the zodiac.

Howard Nemerov, “The Goose Fish” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977). Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (1977)

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Poet Howard Nemerov 1920–1991

Subjects Pets, Love, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Relationships, Nature, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

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 Howard  Nemerov


Howard Nemerov was a highly acclaimed poet often cited for the range of his capabilities and subject matter, "from the profound to the poignant to the comic," James Billington remarked in his frequently quoted announcement of Nemerov's appointment to the post of United States poet laureate. A distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis from 1969 to 1990, Nemerov wrote poetry and fiction that managed to engage . . .

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SUBJECT Pets, Love, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Relationships, Nature, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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