I Canonize Dick Curran
The river, as they say, is running off. To where, with what? To the last place current
would carry a body if a body lay itself beside slipping banks, knelt even, and asked to be
Not the placid tour you might envision: having never seen mill pulp seeping
acridly from settling ponds, having never seen the soles of young lovers’ shoes
through a footbridge’s fenced floor. Having no idea how long a cliff-borne hydraulic
could hold you under.
I counted once, singing “I’ll Fly Away” three times before the brutish
swirl spit back the huge cedar it had swallowed with such nonchalance.
I thought back then I
wanted water, the
great beast, flowing
over and around me,
wanted to be eroded,
spread in flood
across the sedge-lit
bottoms: a stillness,
in other words, the
living aren’t allowed.
A man I’d watched, though, named Dick Curran would ford the cold flow in jeans
faithfully that winter pulling braces of whitefish from the hole. Lop each head with
his knife-handle priest and leave them lying atop the stones I wanted to be, glistening
in the sun’s midday stare.
I knew it like a liturgy: the hunched figure squinting at the union
line and water until light quivered and man and river were likewise joined, just
elements, forces of nature.
Then by its tail he’d grasp the fish, split its skull. A nod, a wave to
across the riffle. Tipped hat.
At certain moments of high stillness, I expected him to
walk onto and across the water, the fish shuddering, slipping back. Of course he’d
simply sit there on his bucket beneath the thin, glaucoma sky while my toes grew so
cold I thought to offer them for bait.
We are just bait, he said the evening I found him sprawled-out on the icy two-track,
his scattered catch staring blindly up at the wide arcs of crows.
Help me right here
before they freeze—
and so we slit the
bellies of those fish
open, ran the roe out
with our fingers.
Then rode in the truck’s warm silence to his basement room full of tackle, fillet
knives, blades on the counter beside his crude oil landscapes: Something to do, he said
pointing to the paintings, to mark the days.
In essence what Santa Lucia said when asked why
she carried her pocked-out eyes in a dish. Something to do while dodging the pimps
she refused to whore for, or strolling across the Swedish countryside, cradling that
bowl like a luminaria.
A living half-testament—depending, of course, on the myth—to the
scripture she often canted: If the eyes are sound, the whole body is filled with light.
Songless, Curran carried maggots beneath his tongue to keep them alive and a white
bucket filled sometimes with fish he boiled and served with salt and lemon butter to
the folks at Friendship Manor Retirement Center, and once to a young man who
believed they existed only on ornate canvases, in baroque tales.
Never saw him again, but read
he died late one August: the river, predictably, low enough to cross.
“I Canonize Dick Curran” originally appeared in Seneca Review (XXXVI, No.1, Spring 2006).