The Legend of John Dory

For Nives & Niksa. Split, Croatia

It’s a sign of intelligence to try new food
and the salty Balkan air made me bolder
with every wave that brought us here
with the thrum of the old boat—I felt reckless
as a Puritan walking out on the sermon
about The Fall and the imminent dangers
resulting from desire.

The eyes are the best part, the waiter said
after he set our plates down on the table
beaten by hot island sun.
This is how you suck them out.
So, we picked up the fish and slurped—
my tongue, that wet salty shore
where a fisherman once cast his net
into the sea for one last time
before dropping it to fish for men.

When he left his boat, Saint Peter saw a fish—
a remarkable flat fish with a coin in its mouth
to pay temple taxes. When he picked it up
to retrieve the money, he left a thumbprint
on its side. These fish from the family of Zeus
still carry the oval mark.

Still thinking of salt & water, apostles
& knotted nets, still feeling an inner fire,
I look up and see the way you are looking
at me. Soon, I am swimming with desire.

———

“The Legend of John Dory” by Gwendolyn Soper

Source: Nine Mile, Spring Issue 2022, Vol. 10, No. 1. Click here to order a copy.

An unforgettable moment: Billy Collins reads “The Legend of John Dory” on The Poetry Broadcast, 12 April 2022.

The entire episode of that broadcast can be found here. Soper’s poem is at the 14:33 minute mark.

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