poem index

About this poet

Born in 1949 in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica Funkhouser studied at Vassar College and Stanford University. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including: Earthly (Houghton Mifflin, 2008); Pursuit (2002); Sure Shot and Other Poems (1992); and Natural Affinities (1983).

She was a recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Foundation grant for poetry. She has also worked as a playwright.

She lives in Essex, Massachusetts and teaches poetry-writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Women Who Clean Fish

Erica Funkhouser
The women who clean fish are all named Rose
or Grace.  They wake up close to the water,
damp and dreamy beneath white sheets,
thinking of white beaches.

It is always humid where they work.
Under plastic aprons, their breasts
foam and bubble.  They wear old clothes
because the smell will never go.

On the floor, chlorine.
On the window, dry streams left by gulls.
When tourists come to watch them
working over belts of cod and hake,
they don't look up.

They stand above the gutter.  When the belt starts
they pack the bodies in, ten per box,
their tales crisscrossed as if in sacrament.
The dead fish fall compliantly.

It is the iridescent scales that stick,
clinging to cheek and wrist,
lighting up hours later in a dark room.

The packers say they feel orange spawn
between their fingers, the smell of themselves
more like salt than peach.

From Natural Affinities by Erica Funkhouser, published by Alice James Books. Copyright © 1983 Erica Funkhouser. Used with permission.

Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser

Raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica Funkhouser studied at Vassar College and Stanford University

by this poet

poem
With age   
mirage
assuages
what the youthful eye  
would have studied
until identified—
chicory? bluebird? debris?  
Today no nomenclature
ruptures
the composure
of a chalk-blue haze
pausing, even dawdling,
now and then trembling
over what I'm going to call
fresh water.
poem
Last night the animals 
beneath her window 
crept out of hiding 
to comb the dirt 
from each other's fur.

Rising to watch, 
she discovered the lilacs 
lit from below by ivory vinca. 
The street on the other side 
of the trees continued 
to contain its passing cars; 
tenderly her teeth 
let her tongue rest