Week 329: When I asked for fish, by Carl Sandburg

‘Beautiful’ seems an odd epithet to apply to a poem about a man eating eggs in a fish restaurant that’s run out of fish, but I do find this piece by the American poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) beautiful in its oddball way. Perhaps it is that ‘shining breast of the Ohio river’, perhaps it is just its quiet celebration of a commonplace moment of contemplative aliveness, but anyway, I like it. It’s from a 1928 collection called ‘Good Morning, America’.

When I asked for fish in the restaurant facing the Ohio river, with fish signs and fish pictures all over the wooden, cracked frame of the fish shack, the young man said ‘Come around next Friday – the fish is all gone today’.

So I took eggs, fried, straight up, one side, and he murmured, humming, looking out at the shining breast of the Ohio river, ‘and the next is something else, and the next is something else’.

The customer next was a hoarse roustabout, handling nail kegs on a steamboat all day, asking for ‘three eggs, sunny side up, three, nothing less, shake us a mean pan of eggs’.

And while we sat eating eggs, looking at the shining breast of the Ohio river in the evening lights, he had his thoughts and I had mine thinking how the French who found the Ohio river named it La Belle Rivière meaning a woman easy to look at.

Carl Sandburg

Week 132: Gone, by Carl Sandburg

I don’t know how far Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) thought in terms of gender politics – probably as a poet he just loved the individuality of people and things. But certainly in this poem he manages to reconcile male yearnings with a respect for feminine independence to achieve a balance perhaps not always to be found in the poetry of the past.


Everybody loved Chick Lorimer in our town.
Far off
Everybody loved her.

So we all love a wild girl keeping a hold
On a dream she wants.
Nobody knows now where Chick Lorimer went.
Nobody knows why she packed her trunk…
A few old things
And is gone,

Gone with her little chin
Thrust ahead of her
And her soft hair blowing careless
From under a wide hat,
Dancer, singer, a laughing passionate lover.

Were there ten men or a hundred hunting Chick?
Were there five men or fifty with aching hearts?
Everybody loved Chick Lorimer.
Nobody knows where she’s gone.

Carl Sandburg