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?