Buddy Tabor teaches me to fillet 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
it’s a relief, the silent mind

i’m deep into
pearl-rope sockeye
backbone

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

not now
not ever
instead
i’m remembering Buddy
how we ran into each other
down at the harbor
after a morning
full of stories
recording an interview
for the radio

both of us lured down
to the water by the
hand-painted sign
by the road
‘FRESH HALIBUT’
a boy and his father
working side by side
deep lines in the sea
bringing fish to boat
from boat to table
no middle men

Buddy bummed to find
they are only selling
whole fish
the smallest 25 pounds

so we split a fish
and drive over to my place
on Douglas

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

Passing my knife
he makes short work
talking his way through it
a song for the fish, for me

carving it up, negotiating
some sort of a split in which
he comes out ahead

payment for this
life lesson, his tutelage
Buddy takes home the heavy filets,
the cheeks

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

I remember telling Buddy where i lived,
Which crooked house on the hill?
Him laughing, telling me
“a guy asked me to paint
that house years ago,
When I gave him the estimate
He told me to go to hell!
I told him that roof is a widow maker,
It’s gonna cost you something.”
His old house-painting-partner
Is painting my neighbor’s house
In this late summer dusk

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

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