The painter and the fish. A poem by Raymond Carver, a work by Carlo Dalcielo

002. The Painter and the Fish: the Poem

The Painter and the Fish
poem by Raymond Carver

(from A New Path to the Waterfall, Atlantic Montly Press, New York 1988)

All day he’d been working like a locomotive.
I mean he was painting, the brush strokes
coming like clockwork. Then he called
home. And that was that. That was all she
wrote. He shook like a leaf. He started
smoking again. He lay down and got back
up. Who could sleep if your woman sneered
and said time was running out? He drove
into town. But he didn’t go drinking.
No, he went walking. He walked past a mill
called “the mill”. Smell of fresh-cut
lumber, lights everywhere, men driving
jitneys and forklifts, driving themselves.
Lumber piled to the top of the warehouse,
the whine and groan of machinery. Easy
enough to recollect, he thought. He went
on, rain falling now, a soft rain that wants
to do its level best not to interfere
with anything and in return asks only
that it not be forgotten. The painter
turned up his collar and said to himself
he wouldn’t forget. He came to a lighted
building where, inside a room, men played
cards at a big table. A man wearing
a cap stood at the window and looked
out through the rain as he smoked
a pipe. That was an image he didn’t
want to forget either, but then
with his next thought he
shrugged. What was the point?

He walked on until he reached the jetty
with its rotten pilings. Rain fell
harder now. It hissed as it struck
the water. Lightning came and went.
Lightning broke across the sky
like memory, like revelation. Just
when he was at the point of despair,
a fish came up out of the dark
water under the jetty and then fell back
and then rose again in a flash
to stand on its tail and shake itself!
The painter could hardly credit
his eyes, or his ears! He’d just
had a sign – faith didn’t enter
into it. The painter’s mouth flew
open. By the time he’d reached home
he’d quit smoking and vowed never
to talk on the telephone again.
He put on his smock and picked up
his brush. He was readly to begin
again, but he didn’t know if one
canvas could hold it all. Never
mind. He’d carry it over
onto another canvas if he had to.
It was all or nothing. Lightning, water,
fish, cigarettes, cards, machinery,
the human heart, that old port.
Even the woman’s lips against
the receiver, even that.
The curl of her lip.

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