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Fish-woman

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.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is a poet, journalist, and essayist based in Philadelphia, PA. A current MFA-candidate in the Helen Zell Writers program, her work has been recognized and supported by the Hopwood Awards, the Vermont Studio Center, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers' Conference, and the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. Her poems, essays and interviews have been published or are forthcoming in Philadelphia Stories, Paper Dragon, Glass Mountain, the Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Millions.

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