Today's poem is by Lee Ann Roripaugh


There are nights I dream of goldfish,
and in my dreams they sing to me in
fluted, piercing sopranos like the Vienna
Boys Choir. Althought in the daylight
they are mostly silent and ravenous—
the suction-cup grip of their mouths
on my fingertip like tiny rubber bath-
room plungers when they rise to strike
at an offering of chopped green peas.
Sometimes a frenetic clicking of marbles
nosed and nudged across the aquarium
floor during scavenging sessions for food,
sounding like the rack and crack of a game
of pool. Such hunger. Such extravagance.

Their ovoid bodies are like Faberge eggs
filigreed with flakes of hammered gold,
a glittering armor of polished gill
plates, their dorsal fins elegant ribbed
silk fans that open when in motion,
and fold themselves shut in repose.
Clever pectoral fins maneuver and oscillate
like small propellers, and the circling
tails flare and twirl with the hypnotic
flourish of the toreador's cape. All
is endless metaphor here. All of it.

I once read the goldfish memory span
was three seconds, and does this mean
each moment is an astonishment
in a series of quick incarnations spiraling
outward the way water ripples away
from a disturbance, so that, in the end,
each brief flicker of awareness
is long enough to learn to simply be,
and isn't this really, after all, enough?

One morning I woke to find the red-capped
oranda in distress—fins clampled sadly
down, listless tail, gasping on the back
corner floor of the aquarium. I netted
her and put her in a glass bowl sugared
with a quarter cup of sea salt crystals—
the way my Japanese grandfather once
showed my mother, and the way my mother,
years later in America, once showed me.

And several hours later, the sheer veils
of tail and fin began to bloom, to resume
their arabesques and veronicas around
the sleek shimmer of her white satin body—
the scandal of her scarlet cap dipping
coquettishly, onyx beads of eyes swiveling
in their turquoise socket rings. She swam
around and around the clear glass bowl,
until my heart swung left and followed her
around and around from above the way
red-throated loons on the Island of Seto
circle and follow the fishing boats, tamed
by the fishermen, and calling out
with their strange and mournful cries.

Copyright © 2004 Lee Ann Roripaugh All rights reserved
from Year of the Snake
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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