120 rainbows starve

I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels – until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
          – Elizabeth Bishop, The Fish

Without the build up it doesn’t do it justice. If you feel like I’ve broken a beautiful poem, then check out Bishops ‘The Moose‘. I was recommended it by a beautiful friend, who added a note saying ‘and this one is my favourite too – this one took her 16 years to write…well, not everyday, but to perfect it… + it is PERFECT!’

She’s right. You should probably read that instead of reading this, as I have no idea how I’m going to continue from here.

Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.



I can’t make poems that make rainbows burst out of boats, or even brains. I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t know how many rainbows I’ve seen. And I’ll be honest, I’ve never found them that pretty. At least not in real life. Not as much as I do when Elizabeth Bishop puts three of them near the end of a poem.

I mean. They’re obviously pretty miraculous. And full spectrum colour is a useful metaphor for completeness and variety and the way life is.

White light, split by millions of particles of water, splits itself in front of you. Everyone sees a different rainbow. It’s just a trick of the light but there’s gold at the end.

It’s the rainbows in the kitchen that always fascinated me most. When some glass or knickknack caught the light in just the right way, and this perfect block of colour would be projected onto the floor or front of the fridge. The image is caught in my mind. A slight wobble, maybe it came through water.

I don’t know. But I remember trying to catch little fragments of rainbow, dancing by our fridge and washing machine.

You can’t catch rainbows. They’re just tricks of light. Not even tricks. They’re just light. Light divided, shown to be whole and varied.

I don’t know how you starve rainbows. But I suspect we all need the full range of colour to keep moving and living and being ourselves.

Drained of colour, life becomes lonely and hard and it impossible to see off the edge of the moment. A moment that stretches out greyly into the future. I know life without rainbows, and I know what it feels like when they return, setting everything on beautiful, colourful fire. It seems inexplicable, in the same way that arcs of colour in the sky do (but they aren’t).

Would a 120 rainbows starve in the same way the lack does?

I don’t think I can imagine a way of knowing.

All I know is rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

And I let the fish go.

Illustration by Christopher (aka UnacceptaBoy) age 5


About Alex Ava

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by Clair, Special Guest Illustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

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