June 2012

THE FISH POEM from WHEN I WAS A GIRL & YOU WERE A BOY

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’

–T.S. Eliot

A young and foolish girl,
I once spent a summer
eagerly mixed up with
an engaged boy.

We worked 3rd shift, tried to
see ourselves as victims of some
cosmic accident, but it took
too much energy to improvise.

Anyway, too often after
our shift ended, another
hot day’s light shaping up,
I’d go over to the apartment
he shared with the fiancée
who worked days somewhere.

We sprawled on the couch,
kissed aimlessly, messed up
the kitchen fixing breakfast,
listened to the fans cooling
those small white rooms,
the hum of the fish tank filters.

He had two or three huge tanks
in a corner of the living room
brimming with all kinds of
bright and alert fish.

He let me feed the fish,
swore he never let his
fiancée touch the food.
I felt like I believed him.

He kept those tanks so clean,
some mornings in my after
work stupor, I’d forget there
was glass, saw the fish swim
in air, seaweed wave from
some fan generated breeze.

Maybe we should have
persisted, but we never
came up with the energy
to drag each other into
the bedroom on the far
side of the apartment.

I went back to school that fall,
back to a boy who dumped me
every summer, picked me up
every September. When I
came back before finals,
the engaged boy had quit.

I bet I didn’t even ask where
he’d gone. Seriously, he
was just another bad idea, not
so idle mischief that left no
permanent mark, no long term
distress, just that odd sometimes
prick of vague unease that
for awhile flipped through me
like a goldfish flitting through
an algae streaked tank, moments
of scaly golden light obscured,
lost like an engaged boy’s name.