Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
Twenty-five participants gathered from various locations to read and discuss “The First Fish” from Ada Limón’s 2022 collection The Hurting Kind. We discussed how the word “[f]irst” (appearing in the title) indicates an important event. The poem’s speaker, calling herself “a barbarous girl”, recounts catching a fish with a gold circled black eye and “terrible mouth” in order to be called brave. Participants saw the situation as one in which the girl lacks power; the narrator now as a woman reflecting on the experience with regret.
Later, four participants read aloud their responses to the prompt “Write about a first catch” and captured the group’s attention with accounts of: refusing to accept the doctor who her father saw as a “catch” and catching a theoretical physicist instead; catching a cold, which was feared to be COVID and being “voted off the island”; witnessing one’s self as being “the first catch”; and fishing as a child and wishing to ride away on the back of the fish that got away.
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The First Fish from The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón When I pulled that great fish up out of Lake Skinner’s mirrored-double surface, I wanted to release the tugging beast immediately. Disaster on the rod, it seemed he might yank the whole aluminum skiff down toward the bottom of his breathless world. The old tree of a man yelled to hang on and would not help me as I reeled and reeled, finally seeing the black carp come up to meet me, black eye to black eye. In the white cooler it looked so impossible. Is this where I am supposed to apologize? Not only to the fish, but to the whole lake, land, not only for me but for the generations of plunder and vanish. I remember his terrible mouth opening as if to swallow the barbarous girl he’d lose his life to. The gold-ringed eye did not pardon me, no absolution, no reprieve. I wanted to catch something; it wanted to live. We never are the bottom-feeder, buried by the rosebush where my ancestors swore the roses bloomed twice as big that year, the year I killed a thing because I was told to, the year I met my twin and buried him without weeping so I could be called brave. Credit: Limón, Ada. “The First Fish.” The Hurting Kind. (2022) Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.