Harp & Altar
Joshua Cohen
from North Vain, Bluff

Evelyn Hampton

Lily Hoang

Peter Markus
from Bob, or Man on Boat

Bryson Newhart

Robert Walser
translated by Mark Harman and Walter Arndt

from Bob, or Man on Boat
Peter Markus

When Bob fishes the river, fishing for fish, he is fishing for more than fish.

There are some fishermen and fisherwomen in town who fish so that they can talk about fishing for fish.

These fisherpeople fish so that one of these days they’ll be able to tell you a fish story about the big fish that got away.

Bob does not fish so that Bob can tell that kind of a story.

Sometimes, though, what I do think is this.

That Bob is fishing for the fish that, when Bob fishes this fish up and out of the river, this will be the one fish that will teach Bob something other than how to fish.

I do not know, for Bob, what that something other than how to fish could be.

I can’t imagine Bob doing anything besides fishing for his fish.

The river, without Bob out on it, in Bob’s boat, fishing for fish, the river, it wouldn’t be the same river.

It wouldn’t be the same river that it is when Bob is out on this river fishing for his fish.

The river, without Bob on it, fishing in his boat, the river, it wouldn’t even be a river.

Now that I am imagining this, the river, this is what I believe would happen to it.

The river, if Bob was not out on it, it would turn, first to mud, then to dirt.

And the fish in the river?

The fish would turn to stone.



But that’s not gonna happen.

Not to this river.

Not to Bob.

Not to the fish that Bob is fishing this river for.

Bob, when one day Bob finds and fishes out of the river that one fish that will teach him and tell him what to do next, what this fish is going to tell Bob, at least the way that I imagine it happening, is this fish is going to tell Bob to keep on fishing for fish.

And this fish, for saying this, for telling Bob to keep on fishing for fish, the river, it will kiss this fish.

This river, it will throw this fish back.

Back into the river.

Go fish.



Oh, if you teach a man to fish.

The river becomes his home.

Bob is sitting on his boat.

Bob’s baits are not in the river’s water.

Bob is, at the moment, just sitting there staring out across the river at what I do not know.

Maybe this is Bob thinking.

What is Bob thinking about?


His fish.

What if Bob never finds the fish that he is fishing for?

Is this what Bob is thinking?

Or is Bob thinking this?

That the fish that Bob is fishing for, it is somewhere in the river waiting for Bob to find it.

Bob is an optimist.

If you teach a man how to fish, Bob knows, that man will fish forever.

He will never go hungry again.

Such a man is Bob.

Bob is only hungry for one fish.

The fish that is the fish.

There are fish in the river that are considered eaters.

This fish is not that kind of a fish.

And there are other fish in this river that are the kind of fish that you throw back when you fish them up and into your boat.

Come back when you’re older is what we say to these kinds of fish.

And then there are the fish like the fish that Bob is fishing for.

This kind of fish, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do with this kind of fish.

To fish this kind of fish up and out of the river, I can only imagine that this might be like coming up to the man who is your father and hearing this father call you his son.

What do you do at a moment like this?

You hold onto it is what you do.

You hold that man in your arms.

You hold your hands onto that fish.



But how long can you hold a fish out of water before this fish starts gasping for breath?

You only get one fish like this.

You only get one father who is your father.

You only get one son if one son is all you’ve got.

There comes a time when you’ve got to let go.

There comes a time when you’ve got to look this fish straight in the eye and then that’s it.

It’s over.

And the river keeps flowing and flowing.



And so Bob goes home.

Bob goes home to his boat that floats on the flowing river.

Bob goes home to the river.

Where Bob fishes for fish.



I go home too.

To be with my son.

I am a father.

My son is a fish.



I like to tell my son stories.

My son likes to hear me tell him these stories.

In each story, there is always some kind of a fish.

In each story, there is a man in the story who is fishing for this fish.

This man, I always call him Bob.

The story always ends the same way, with Bob living happily ever after.

After Bob catches his fish.



What my son always says to this is, What happens next?

What does Bob do after he catches the fish?

That’s the part of the story, I tell my son, that I don’t know what happens next.



What do you think happens to Bob next?

Sometimes I ask my son this.

My son says that he thinks that Bob, after he catches the fish, Bob gets eaten by the fish.

Bob gets eaten by the fish? I say.

I say to my son, Is that a happy ending?

My son reminds me that this is what fish do.

Fish eat, he tells me.

Fish eat other fish.



So in my son’s version of this Bob gets eaten by the fish that he’s been fishing for.

That fish must be a pretty big fish, I say to my son.

It is, he says.

It’s this big, he says, and he stretches his arms out as far as he can get them

to stretch.

It’s as big as the river is, he says.

He says that this fish, it’s as big as from where our house is and it goes up all the way to the moon.

That sounds like it’s bigger than a whale is, is what I say to this.

It is, he says.

It’s a moon-fish.

This fish, my son tells me, it swam all the way down from where the moon is.

That’s some fish, I tell him.

I say, That’s some story.

It gets even better, my son says.

Tell me, I say.

What happens next?



What happens next is this.

This fish, this big moon-fish, it has swum down all the way from where the moon is to eat up all the fish.

To eat up all the fishermen.

It won’t stop, it won’t swim back to the moon, until there’s nothing left for this fish to eat.



So maybe I should stay away from the river, I say, if this fish is gonna eat up all of the fish.

It won’t be safe to be fishing the river if this fish is gonna eat all of us fishing men up.

And what my son then says to this is that he thinks that might not be such a bad idea.



Three days later, I go out on the river.

Out on the river that night, I see Bob’s boat tied up to its dock, but I don’t see Bob sitting up in Bob’s boat.

I do not, at first, think that something’s gone wrong.

I think to myself that maybe Bob has gone into town to pick up some gas to gas up his boat.

But the river, without Bob sitting on it, there’s something big missing from this picture.

That night, I fish more fish out of the river than I have ever fished out of it before.

And I know why.

I know that the fish that I am fishing out of the river are the fish that would be Bob’s.

But because Bob is not fishing the river, I catch more fish that night—there are so many fish piled up on the bottom of my boat—that it’s hard for me to keep count.

That night, I’m up half the night cleaning fish.

The guts, that night, I don’t bury the guts the way I usually do out back in our backyard garden.

I put the guts into two buckets.

In the morning, I go with these two buckets of guts, down to the river, and I throw the guts in.

I think about Bob and how Bob believes that the guts of the fish, when Bob gives them back to the river, the guts turn back into fish.

I think about my son’s story about the moon-fish that is eating up all of the river’s fish.

I think about the river and what would happen, one day, if the river ran out of fish.

I think about Bob again and what would Bob do if the river one day ran out of fish before Bob fished from the river that one fish that he has for so long been fishing for.

I think about Bob’s boat and the way that it looked last night without Bob in it.

It looked just like the dead man’s boat must have looked when those two boys in Ohio first saw it sitting there in the mud on their river’s muddy banks.

So I get in my boat.

I go in my boat down the river to where Bob’s boat is.

Bob’s boat is sitting there, rocking in the wake made by my boat as I motor up to it, to see if there is any sign of Bob.

There is no Bob sitting there in Bob’s boat.

Bob’s boat is just a boat.

What I think now, what I know now, is that there is more than just something big missing from this picture.

There is something wrong with this picture.

The river, it is missing Bob.

The river’s not the same without Bob out on it.

There’s something wrong with this river without Bob fishing for the fish that live down in it.

So I go back upriver, I go into town, and I start asking whoever I see if any of them have seen Bob.


Not since last week.

It’s been a while.

I bought some fish from him last Friday but I haven’t seen him since.

This is what the townspeople who know Bob have to tell me about not seeing Bob.

When I go back out onto the river, to ask some of the fisherman and fisherwomen if any of them have seen Bob, they all say the same thing: nope, not since last week, it’s been a while since Bob’s been out on the river.

But let me tell you this, they also tell me.

The fishing around here, it’s never been better.

I got more fish than I can eat, they say.

I hate to say it, one fisherman says this to me, but this river is a better place without Bob on it.

I give this fishing man a look.

I want to take one of my fishing hooks and hook it through his lip.

I want to take an anchor to this man’s head.

I make a fist.

Fish on, this man hollers.

I watch this man set his hooks into the lip of a fish.

This fish, I think, it could be the fish.

It could be Bob’s fish.

I pull away before I get a look at the fish that is about to be fished up into this boat that is not Bob’s.

That night, I can’t sleep.

All night long, I keep picturing Bob, walking along the bottom of the river, looking for this fish.



It’s true that the big fish who live in the river like to be big fish in the river alone.

It is also true that the littler fish who live in the river like to swim together in the river along with other little fish.

This is true, too, about the people who fish for these fish.

There are people who fish the river who like to fish close to where there are other boats fishing for fish.

It’s believed that where there are fishing boats fishing for fish that beneath those boats there must be fish to be fished out of the river and fished up into these boats.

Sometimes, this is true.

But Bob, you will never see Bob’s boat anywhere near any of these bunched up boats.

Bob is like a big fish out on the river fishing for the fish that, like Bob, this fish likes to be a fish alone.

Bob fishes the parts of the river that other fishermen and other fisherwomen believe are dead.

Bob knows that no part of the river is dead.

In Bob’s eyes, the river, every last piece of the river, it is alive.

It is alive with fish.

It is alive because of fish.

Bob is the fish that I am fishing for.

Is there a bigger fish for a man to fish for than the fish that is his father?

I can think of only one fish that is bigger than the fish that is the father.

The fish that is the son.



The fish that is the son is a fish that wants to be fished up from the bottom of the river.



I am a fish.

I am a fish.



When I fish, I fish for Bob.

When I go out onto the river, in my boat, I am not just a fishing man.

I am a fish waiting to be caught.



The river is a bridge to Bob.

In my boat, I float and I drift and I motor on by Bob with the hope that one of these days Bob is going to look up.

One of these days, when Bob looks up, he will see a light that he is looking to see.

One of these days, when Bob listens up close, he will hear a sound that he is listening to hear.

This light, this sound, it is not coming from the inside of a fish.

This light, and the song behind it, it is coming from a boat.

Not just any old boat.

It is coming from this man’s boat.

And I am the captain, I am the fish steering and standing in the back of this boat.



One of these days, I am going to holler out, to Bob, Bob, take a look at this fish.

I will stand with my arms spread apart as far as I can stretch them, to say to Bob that this fish that I am talking about, it is a big fish, it is a fish so big it is too big to fit inside this boat.

Will Bob even look up?

Will Bob lift up his head?

If Bob knows anything, it is this.

The fish that’s already been fished up out of the river, that fish isn’t the fish that he is fishing for.

It’s not the fish that you can see.

It’s the fish that you can’t see.

The fish that hasn’t yet been caught.

The fish that hasn’t yet been named.

When Bob reaches his hands into the river, there is no telling what he might fish up.



And then, one day, up from the river, it is the sun that rises up.

And then, like this, in the light of this light, I see the man that I call Bob.

Bob, I say, when I see that it’s him, but Bob doesn’t see me.

I am the son that Bob does not know.

I am the fish at the bottom of the river waiting to be fished up.



Bob fishes.

Bob is fishing.

Bob was fishing.

Bob fished last night.

Bob will fish again later tonight.

By day, Bob sleeps.

When Bob is sleeping, Bob is dreaming about fish.

When Bob sleeps, Bob dreams about fishing.

Bob dreamed today, as he was sleeping, about fishing for that fish.

That fish, in Bob’s dreams, it leaped up out of the river.

Bob dreamed that he woke up on the river.

In Bob’s dream, Bob dreamed that the river was his bed.

Bob dreamed that when he woke up from his dreaming, the fish was sleeping next to him in this bed.

Bob reached over across this bed and put his hand on this fish’s fin.

Bob shook this fish’s fin to try and wake this fish up from its sleeping.

But this fish did not wake up from this sleeping.

This fish was not sleeping.

This fish, it was dead.



It’s true.

Fish in this river die.

It happens all the time.

Sometimes, fish stop breathing.

Sometimes, fish stop swimming.

Sometimes, these fish float up to the river’s top.

Sometimes, these fish float on past Bob and Bob’s boat.

Sometimes, Bob will fish these floating by fish up out of the river, and Bob will fish these fish up into his boat.

Bob does not fish these dead fish up out of the river and fish these fish up into his boat so that he can sell them.

Bob does not fish these dead fish up out of the river and fish these fish up into his boat so that he can eat them.

What Bob does do to these dead fish that he fishes up out of the river is, Bob guts the guts out of these fish.

The guts of these dead fish, Bob throws the guts back into the river.

Bob throws the guts of these dead fish back into the river so that the guts of these dead fish can turn back into fish.