Chris Dombrowski

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).