Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poem a day 2015: 8

Fish and Birds

In that house on Elmer Street, as the sixties
slid into the seventies, our pets could not be
touched.  Cold blooded animals, close to the start
of the evolutionary chain, they swam to and fro
in bubbling tanks, through purple seaweed
over whitish decorative rocks,
waving chewed tails like flags,
languid in their glass prison.

The fat guppies regularly spit out
clouds of babies,
which they and the angelfish --
open mouthed and wide eyed --
probably ate.
Neon tetras zigged and zagged, fluorescent

through herds of nameless silver fish,
while the Siamese fighting fish (male)
dangled mute
in his separate tank, dark blue turning
observing us with
prehistoric hatred
through the scratched plastic.

These were Dad’s animals, and he tended them
with clinical affection,
cleaning their aquariums
til the glass glowed,
moving them from one tank to another,
replacing them as they floated to the top.

We wanted mammals -- dogs or cats, hamsters,
rats -- furry beasts with palpable beating hearts.
Dad’s concession was a blue and white parakeet,
Bill, who sharpened his beak on a cuttlebone,
who chirped and shrieked in the kitchen,
scattering seeds and droppings on his slab
of old newspaper,
whose heart beat wild
when in our enthusiasm for touch
we reached chubby fingers into his cage.

It wasn’t long before Bill died,
turned up one morning stiff as a comma
on last month’s news, claws
curled around nothing,
eyes wide.
Dad theorized that our bedroom,
cold by the window
where the wind wormed through the old wood,
did the deed,
but perhaps we killed him with our fevered and
childish need for petting,

or that house, so long steeped in
antiseptic waters, filled with
the exhalations of those glass prisons,
couldn’t support a

touchable beast.

1 comment:

vstefani said...

Wow! Powerful, perhaps partly because of my own experiences with fish and parakeets (not very pleasant, taken as a whole, though there were moments), but also really, really good.