Net-Mending in the Poetry Corner

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.]

4 Responses to “Net-Mending in the Poetry Corner”

  1. Brian Freeman Says:


    Certainly plausible, in fact familiar, to imagine the man’s mind on “a pint and supper – nothing more.” But his heart? Our hearts? Cf. Mark 10:17-22:

    “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: `Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. “

  2. Ann McElligott Says:

    I first heard this poem read on A Prairie Home Companion close to 30 years ago. As you said, Mark, I have never read this passage from Mark without thinking of it. I have preached many sermons since then, and have often tried to find the poem. I had not remembered the author. What a treat to find it today. It will be in my sermon tomorrow.

  3. Mark Grannis Says:

    Ann, it’s remarkable to me that you were still searching after so many years. I admire your memory, your optimism, and your persistence. Did your family by any chance own the pool Dr. Seuss wrote about?

    “Hmmm . . .” answered Marco,
    “It may be you’re right.
    I’ve been here three hours without one single bite.
    There might be no fish . . .
    But, again,
    Well, there might!
    ‘Cause you never can tell
    What goes on down below!

    This pool might be bigger
    Than you or I know!
    . . .
    And that’s why I think
    That I’m not such a fool
    When I sit here and fish
    In McElligot’s Pool!”

  4. Ann McElligott Says:

    I married the McElligott. Actually the book was written in the year I was born. My husband received many copies when the book was published. He actually met Theodore Geisel when he drove through Winona, Minnesota, in a “woody” with Cat in the Hat figures painted on it. He ran down the street to catch him and had lunch with him. When asked why he had chosen that name, Geisel said his aim was to teach children not to be afraid of big words and conquer them by sounding them out. McElligot [or McElligott] served his purposes well. As I give copies of the book to my grandchild and my husband’s great-grandchildren, I enjoy believing we might live near that wonderfully magical pool.

    The sermon is done. We’ll see how she preaches tomorrow.

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