Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: Fish By Louise J. Jones


I check the oven; fish flesh
is lucent pale.
It’ll cook its way towards brick pink.

Eighteen, on a wharf in Instanbul,
I ate the freshest, whitest fish
I’d ever seen.

Fifty-eight, mourning
my mother in St Ives,
I got the same surprise again;

a piece of hake shone
in the mollusced
harbour light.

I remember Mum, of a weekday night,
cooking us cod in parsley sauce
with mash and Birdseye peas.

I carry in dished-up plates,
set them, wide and warm,
amongst a contented din;

nowadays, it’s trout, dill sauce,
sweet potato, green beans.
But just a short road back
to where I’ve always been.

Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash
Photo by Lawrence Hookham on Unsplash
Louise Jones’ fine, focused meditation is a metaphorical conduit: broadening to accommodate memory, grief and elegy, her poem’s figurative thread interlaces a sense of the past in the present, as though trawling the backwaters of olfactory and salivatory remembrance might yield a direct connection to family and loved ones.

The poet’s descriptions of fish dishes and meals shared are loaded with meaning, hallowed into being by the sharpness of memory. The opalescent crispness of the poem’s language – the ‘lucent pale’ of the trout, and especially, the ‘mollusced / harbour light’ burnishing the hake – is highly persuasive in the context of a final valediction, a last, commemorative supper. The going down of the sun and its spectral St. Ives light surprises a counter-intuitive moment of reflection in the mourning narrator, whose retrospective presence is the hinge upon which the poem hangs.

The forty-odd years that span the poet’s early recollection in Turkey, and the meal that concludes her circular journey, are a continuum, an underwriting of the symbolism of the breaking of bread as social nexus. The fish that is fresh and white in Istanbul is as pristine as inviolate youth, just as the trout and dill sauce are a measure of learning, of the acquisition of experience.

The gentle undulations of the poem’s metrical pacing, and the easeful half-rhyming, oil the wheels of a temporal voyage that the poet will enshrine in perpetuity.

w50[Fish is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.]