Two Fish

Julie Bruck is the author of three books of poetry, Monkey Ranch (2012), The End of...

 

Say you have two goldfish, pet-store

fishlets bought for 25-cents each, carried

home in a plastic bag and nurtured for years.

Let’s say you clean the tank, place each fish

in its own half-filled Mason jar, each

a bit small for large fish, but adequate

for the short time it should take to balance

the tank’s pH. Suppose you put the jars on a very

high shelf, then forget they’re there for months,

until most of the water has evaporated, until

what’s left of the fish-shapes surrenders

to the dictates of the jars, becoming two squat

cyphers of twisted life. Let’s say that’s how

you find them, your heart swelling with shame,

and quickly, with shaking hands, pour them

back into the tank. Which is more alarming?

The fish who sinks to the bottom, distorted

as in a funhouse mirror, one eye bulging

to the size of its chest, fins extruding

from the wrong places, who squats there

staring out, steady as a barrel? Or the one

who reconstitutes itself as a sponge takes

on tap water, who swims off briskly,

picking up and dropping bits of gravel

with its fish lips, foraging with little

clicks, as it always did before? Which?

The hideously damaged one, or the one

who moves on as if this was what it meant

to be entrusted to your care? Which fish?

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