Buddy Tabor taught me to filet a halibut

in an interview
i ask him what he thinks about
when he paints houses?

nothing, he says
i just go blank

you never write songs
or poems to occupy your mind
while working those hands?

nope, he tells me
when you get as old as me
its a relief, the silent mind

i’m deep into
pearl rope backbone
of a sockeye,

light fading
no-see-ems swarming
the hands, the knife
magnificent red
salmon flesh

hands- automatic
despite the slime
but my mind’s not blank

i’m remembering Buddy
how we ran into each other
down at harbor
after a long morning
in the studio
doing an interview

both of us lured down
to the water by the
hand-painted sign
fresh halibut up by
the road

a boy and his father
working side by side
direct marketing
boat to table

Buddy bummed to find
they were only selling
whole fish
and the smallest is 25 pounds

so we split a fish
and drove out to my place

i’d grown comfortable
enough in a short time
speaking with this peculiar poet
i admired to admit I didn’t
know how to filet a halibut

he made short work
talking his way through it
a song for the fish, for me
carved it up, talked me into some sort
of a split in which
he came out ahead
payment for his tutelage
then took his half home

Buddy’s been dead for years
this salmon in my hands
only days

next door Buddy’s old
business partner has been
painting my neighbor’s house

when i told buddy where i lived
he told me, a guy asked me to paint
that house years ago,
i gave him a huge quote
told him that roof was a widow maker


To hear audio from the interview I did with Buddy back in 2008 check out the Letters from the North archives.