Monday, March 12, 2012

Tuesday Poem - The Portuguese Fish Basket by Connie Barber


Surprised to meet an intriguing light
in woven whitewood: fine strapping like corded silk,
half boat, half sideways egg, I bought it
in an avant-garde, up front, high-tone boutique:
an impulse to engage with its beauty,
its total practicality.

It carried fish for the family from the market,
                  heads resting against the woven wood,
eyes smiling and comfortable. It held to
the deep sun-splashed window sill
like a throne, like a ritual boat. Straked sides, a curving base
bound to a wattled rim, the whole shell woven as one
to strong gunwales with sleaved wood like bands of silk,
held fruit for the children: apples, bananas,
                  and one small bowl for small unthought-of  things.

In another hemisphere, it played a role as crib
for a small saviour, tried out parts in school plays —
                  unsuitable for poisoned apples the director said.
It could hold a pumpkin on its side,
until fetched on command, without capsizing. 

After the children left it lived on above the sink
cradling ginger and garlic and a few strange fruit:
avocado, custard apple, purple figs. In time
it collected dust. A hulk, it lost
its half-shining creamy glow, its silky touch,
                  held corks and candle ends in the small bowl,
garlic and ginger, until it had to move.

Still holding the air of continents and the strength
of trees it moved to a narrow room,
still remembering fish, and the hands that wove
forest into a coracle. Dirty and dull,
washed with care, scrubbed a little, dust
rinsed away, its weft and woof exchanging light,
its silky woven flesh shone again — satin.
An old vessel, ready for fish, fruit, or dreams,
whatever you need to take into the next room

The basket dripped water propped against a red geranium
in the return corner of a ramp linking cottages;
a ramp that allowed the frail and weak to walk
to ground level — look, no steps —  a rail, a web of wire.
a corner to hold the geranium.

The potted flower, steel wire, careful ramp,
shrunk rooms, all intimations of time
that has passed and memory.  A frail evening wind
blew into the basket’s hull. The Portuguese
fish basket fell across the boards, open, vulnerable.

And kicked. It would not slide below the wires,
would not fly, bounced back from a kicking foot,
kicked and kicked and kicked. It lay sideways,
half strangled by the wire below my window
above the ramp, the wire and the red geranium.
I brought the basket in. My neighbour of the ramp
has not seen me. She has stopped kicking, retired.
We share the ramp. We need to reach the ground.

Now the basket lies in the shelter of a fridge,
holds a knob of ginger, garlic and tomatoes
still remembering the fish it used to hold smiling,
coming from the bustling  market in the square,
and forests of woven light in another continent.

I heard Connie read this poem at the Wheeler Centre at a MPU reading – Celebrating the Celebrated, and I was so taken with it I just had to have it for my blog. And Connie was most kind and gave me permission. This poem was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2010 and published in the anthology, Time With The Sky.

If you want to read more Tuesday Poems please click on the quill icon above.


  1. So beautiful in its nostalgia - I'm sure we all have enduring objects like these in our lives. Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing Connie's poem.

  2. I haven't heard Connie read for some years, Jen, but this brought back her voice clearly. Thanks for posting!

  3. There's a whole life story in this poem, isn't there?