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Lexington Poetry Month
Pathetic Fallacy
article by
Bobby Steve Baker

Returning to the river where I spent my childhood,
I watch salmon, already beaten raged
from the rapids,
heroically charge the falls, jump and fail
jump and fail.
In the hour I am audience to the pageantry
of ripping chunks of scales
and flaring gills
I do not see a single fish
make it to the top.
But, I know that as a species
they make it every year,
bellies full of spawn
carried to exactly were the carrier
was born.
In searching for some image to jump start my brain—
I have turn to the salmon.
Their incredible devotion, the sacrifice.
Their commitment to survival
of their kind.
I have come to steal from them a metaphor
describing some deep part of the human condition—
the emotional gauntlet of close relationships,
the suffocating grief of lost love,
the mind-numbing grind that doing
what you most want to do has become.
I want to see the hidden path to moving on
when there is no joy in moving on.
But the salmon have no metaphor to steal.
They make no compromise, feel no grief,
and determination is a word completely
out of context.
When the brain conjures no alternative behavior
the remaining behavior works its work.
Salmon, as far as we know,
have no sense of self-pity and do not imagine
a more perfect world.
They swim, they jump, they spawn, they die.
If there is a metaphor in there—
I don’t want to know about it.

5 responses to “Pathetic Fallacy”

  1. Steve Cummings says:

    I hope you’ve underestimated the emotional life of salmon.

    I really enjoyed this poem
    pageantry is my favorite word. Not my alltime favorite word – that would be “me” but what a great use of it in your poem.

  2. Nice Steve, thanks for the compliment on pageantry and the close reading it took to notice it. I don’t know about salmon though. I think Elizabeth Bishop pretty much wrung the emotional life out if fish a long time ago. I have been thinking this; how cool to work a poem out of your comment:

    is my favorite word.
    Not my alltime favorite word –
    that would be β€œme”
    but what a great use of it in your poem.

    I might work on that with your permission.

  3. Gaby Bedetti says:

    Yeats mentions fish, too, “The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas” in “Sailing to Byzantium.” What I enjoy about your poem is the tenacity with which you pursue the metaphor.

  4. Jim Lally says:

    Steve is part of our Maysville writers group and I like the way you turned his comment into poem.
    Just reading an article on linguistics that stated language is built on the bodies of dead metaphors. They’re buried in contemporary speech and,like salmon, are radical.

    • I love that line Jim, and your extension of it to radical salmon. I can see the menu entry now; substance infused radical salmon on a bed of dead metaphors with a side of diced dialect. I’m sure somebody has done a whole book on Menu Entry poems but it’s kind of fun. Jim, I bet you could do some great ones.

      Thanks to everyone for reading and nice to meet you Steve.

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