We haven’t been to the Poetry Corner in a while, and today the Catholic lectionary gives us a nudge in that direction. Ever since Jim Walsh told me about this poem, it has been impossible for me to hear today’s gospel reading (Mark 1:14-20) without thinking of it.
by Roland Flint
Now here is this man mending his nets
after a long day, his fingers
nicked, here and there, by ropes and hooks,
pain like tomorrow in the small of his back,
his feet blue with his name, stinking of baits,
his mind on a pint and supper — nothing else —
a man who describes the settled shape
of his life every time his hands
make and snug a perfect knot.
I want to understand, if only for the story,
how a man like this,
a man like my father in harvest,
like Bunk MacVane in the stench of lobstering,
or a teamster, a steelworker,
how an ordinary working stiff,
even a high tempered one,
could just be called away.
It’s only in one account
he first brings in a netful —
in all the others, he just calls,
they return the look or stare and then
they “straightaway” leave their nets to follow.
That’s all there is. You have to figure
what was in that call, that look.
(And I wouldn’t try it on a tired working man
unless I was God’s son —
he’d kick your ass right off the pier.)
If they had been vagrants,
poets or minstrels, I’d understand that,
men who would follow a different dog.
But how does a man whose movement,
day after day after day,
absolutely trusts the shape it fills
put everything down and walk away?
I’d pass up all the fancy stunting
with Lazarus and the lepers
to see that one.
[If you’d like to know more about the late Roland Flint, you can find appreciations here and here. At least two of his books still seem to be in print, and you can buy them here and here. Others are available from used booksellers.]