As I swam in the bathtub, they wondered
what they had done to have a fish
instead of a daughter. My father sat back
as I thrashed against the hook of his hands.
His mouth and eyes: three blank holes,
staring at the creature he reeled from his wife’s thighs.
Mother pressed my thin-lipped grimace
to her breast. Nipples bloody, pink as worms,
she thought I would bite if not suck. She wondered
if it was the poison she ingested while I was gestating.
She worked at a plant where beets burned
into sugar. Smoke drifted in manufactured
clouds. Air sweet as pure honey. Father believed
it was punishment for all the fish laid on my
grandfather’s butchering block. Frantic, golden eyes wide
as the screwdriver came for their brains.
Maybe she’s not a penance, my mother said,
but a gift from God. So many of Jesus’s miracles
were born out of swarms of bass. And maybe
it was the thought of God loving them
so much, he crept between their entwined bodies
to deliver a wonder. Maybe it was that their trailer home,
with its canyons of cracked vinyl, peeling paint
needed a little magic. Or maybe it was the look
in my fugitive eyes when I stared back at my father—
so human, so afraid of death—
that made him decide to ignore the operas
of sirens that sprang in shipwrecks from my lips.
He cupped me in his palm. My scales slipped off.
Like a sequin cocktail dress, they collected on the floor
and revealed skin. Vulva ugly and purple,
loose like the lips of a many-hooked fish, but human.
See, my mother said, it’s a child after all.