Michael Symmons Roberts

Three Poems

Cod with the Voice of a Cantor

Still we send the trawlers out, although no one alive
has heard the song, and no one dead will tell.

Boat after boat hauls back, and captains hold
their silent ground on decks of gasping contraband

to listen for a note, a tentative first ‘O’
among the mottled greens, the sand-brown, lobster blue.

So with fathometers we scan the north Atlantic
in the hope of anthems welled-up in the liver

of this loose bag of fish, that begs to be in batter,
fillet it as if to find the staves and dots are written through.

Around the world tonight, these Arctic steels are fried
and served in last night’s newspapers

and even those who do not know the urban myth
will hesitate a moment, wood-fork poised,

as sirens stop, a tram freewheels, car alarms hold back
mid-flash before the prongs go in.

A silent grace, this superstitious pause, which goes
unquestioned, as if from these locked maws

a note may rise, the one we need to hear,
the sound of seas retreating, song that summoned

life from souped-up slime to all of this,
in truth, its maker’s voice, ventriloquising

through a dead cod on your plate,
the beauty of its timbre as dark, opaque and full

as this fish-eye, as fathomless, and yet within a day
so misremembered that its one-chance listener

is cast out under city lights, thrown out of bar after bar,
driven to despair by that half-forgotten song,

hanging out in fish-and-chip shops, shushing customers,
his ear pressed to the hot, lit glass.



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