Sharon Bryan

This is on Poetry Daily today.

I was lucky enough to hear Sharon read this poem a few times at PLU. It's probably one of favorite poems ever because not only does she use wordplay, but it moves beyond that into a more interesting place or why and how.

Bass Bass

Stringed fish thub
thub thubbing its way

downstream or wave-
grained instrument—

the words make a little
sizzle in my brain,

which twin is it, does it
rhyme with ace or ass,

my tongue trips over
itself when I come to

either one, am I at
the opera, jazz club,

bait shop, is something
keeping time or sifting it

through gills—you've
got the picture, here's

the quiz: striped bass,
stringed bass, sea bass

double bass, basswood—
what a difference a vowel

makes, this is the danger
you face, telling the story

of your life, if you fail
to enunciate perfectly

you could have yourself
all wrong, Bayzil not Basil,

married to Lisa not Liza,
writing for Poultry magazine—

how many close calls our
lives are made of, did

the palm reader say
You will have a long life

or the wrong wife, suppose
god has bad handwriting

or a lisp, and we've mis-
understood the messages:

In the begonia was the worm...
we mistook gardening advice

for the story of our lives—
god made lime, and separated

the lime from the bark, planted
seeds, they were fruitful and

vegetable, he looked at what he had
made and saw that it was food,

he was pleased, this was just
his first try, blessed were the leeks,

unheard of on earth until he
grew them, and the peas also,

he tasted them and found
that they were good, a god

could spend his life like that,
puttering in the garden, not

a care in the world beyond
watering his plants, growing

the only sweet fat tomatoes
in the universe—if only

he hadn't wanted to take a day
off to go fishing, so he created

fish and fishing line, and got
to looking at the line, thinking

what else it might be good for,
suppose he plucked it just like

that, and that, it sounded pretty
good, but by then he was tired,

he used almost the same names
for the stringed thing and the fish

that jerked his line just then,
he got himself all tangled up

in words, until he didn't know
his bass from his treble,

he was in trouble, he saw
he needed help, so he invented

Mingus and other people
to show him which way was up.

Sharon Bryan

Poetry Northwest
Fall 2007 / Winter 2008


  1. Yes. Excellent. How good to imagine that you and gods are not so presumptuous to think you might not be all tangled up in words and other judgments.


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