Fish and Song

The end of May
mid morning, air cool, a bit windy
bicyclists ring high pitch bells
to alert pedestrians
for my safety
I twist my neck
in a constant painful knot

I wait to cross the street
on the corner
of the Kloveniersburgwal
of the Nieuwe Markt
to a very narrow fish shop
wedged between two
sixteenth century pack houses
This is where I buy my fish.

I hear his voice loud
I hear the bicycle rattle,
loose bumpers,D-minor,
I make out Eastern European
words and song.

Then I see him
He is tall, late forties, blue eyes
curly salt and pepper hair
He sits on his saddle
as if in a straight-backed chair
high above the handle bar, peddling hard
moving his body strong, right to left
He flies by me, his ballad
bringing up the rear.

What opera is he singing?

I enter the fish shop
only wide enough
for the fish man,
another customer and me.
Cod, sockeye salmon,
octopus, shrimp, langoustines,
crab, oysters, swordfish,
mackerel, sole, sardines,
long-tailed squid, and herring
are piled up high on ice.

I shoulder past the burly fish man
with his bloody rubber apron
red cheeks and a large fish
in his huge hands.
The fish strokes scales
into my hair.
Shocked I ask for fish prices.

Look lady the prices are all there.
In this shop sales are quickly done,
cod packaged, in hand, with a number
to pay the woman cashier.
In and Out.
But I long for more time
to smell and admire the fish
My back to the exit
the woman shoves a small cooked squid
into my mouth, I swallow fleshy
squid sand between my teeth.

The next day I hear
a free lunchtime concert
at the Amsterdam Concert Gebouw.
Hungarian choral music,
gloriously sung
by a hundred men and women,
their songs invite Zoltán Kodály,
Lajos Bárdos, and Béla Bartók
into my belly.

There and then I know
my tall bicyclist is here
singing about night, morning
gypsies eating Cirak cheese
baked ham, beet horseradish
and kabeljauw
their thick tongues,
red from Carpethian wine
purged in the morning
with strong coffee and new appetites.

The bicyclist’s voice brushes over me
tomorrow if I go back
to the narrow fish store
on the Kloveniersburgwal
I can refresh my memory
of a tall man riding his bike
singing about life
and filleted cod fish.


4 thoughts on “Fish and Song

  1. Wow, somehow I hadn’t noticed your use of the word “scales” before, or maybe that’s new. Pretty amazing the way that word works.

    I fear I may not make it Thursday evening. I am teaching an art workshop everyday next week, and we are in the process of moving. Yikes! And here I thought I was at least semi-sane. Alas!

    See you soon, M!


  2. I love this piece so much. So romantic in an unusual way. I doubt people often think of romance when they are buying seafood. But you made it sound so beautiful.

  3. I hear the high-pitched bell and thrill when the opera singer passes! I like the idea that fish sales are expedient. I think if you can smell the fish, too much time has passed.

    A suggested edit, to remove “where:”

    …if I go back
    to the narrow fish store
    on the Kloveniersburgwal
    I can refresh my memory
    of a tall man riding his bike
    singing about life
    and filleted cod fish.

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