North River Shad, c. 1910

By Lindsay Atnip

William Merritt Chase painted numerous versions of fish still
lifes, many of which were quickly purchased by museums across
the country. Because of the popularity of these works, the artist
worried that he would be remembered only “as a painter of fish.”
—placard, Art Institute of Chicago

The real thing rots. Corrupts,
Decays, time-lapses, hollow to holes.

But yours—immortal, silver-scaled, so round
(Why should its roundness be wrenching?)

Realer than the real.

You were afraid this was what they’d remember you for.
Afraid—as if there were somehow more than this.

Here one sees, forever, how it could fill the hand—
How it would feel, filling one’s hand.

One could do worse than be a painter of fishes.

Lindsay Atnip is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Humanities and Social Change at the University of California–Santa Barbara. She has published articles on modern tragedy and the art of Anselm Kiefer.

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