This poem is quite different from the stuff I’ve mostly shared on here to date. I’ve never been the type to spend my time idle, so I’ve never really understood the point of maintaining an aquarium at home. Even though I’ve been totally disabled for over a decade, it took my husband even longer to talk me into it.
I was afraid fish keeping would be like many of his hobbies, where he starts out with a great deal of passion, but one day leaves it behind without a second thought. It isn’t David alone who is like this. I share the same traits. The remnants of each hobby tried ends up stacked on a shelf or hidden in a drawer somewhere until we finally admit it’s better off being donated to someone who will use it. We love things deeply and madly until they start to bore us or we end up in a meltdown of frustration and begin to wonder why we got into such a hassle in the first place.
I remember asking my mother why she didn’t keep the fish tank we had when I was a preschooler and she told me they were a giant pain in the ass to maintain, they were expensive and they were difficult to move. It just wasn’t worth it to have some fish to look at. What purpose did they serve? Somehow this became my own opinion about aquariums, too.
When David was promoted to the department manager over pets at Walmart, our dinner conversation began to be dominated by talk of fish. I quickly came to realize how much he loved and cared for his tiny charges, and how hard he worked to keep them healthy and happy in their temporary home.
When Walmart decided to stop selling fish, he was heartbroken. I knew we had to replace his work fish with some tanks at home. I proposed we make it his birthday present. Over a year later, we now have two and I realize all my reservations about the fish tank were silly.
By and large, I probably get the lion’s share of benefit from these tanks. I find myself staring at them as I pause to think on what I’m writing; when I’m too tired to do anything else or just because their communal drama sucks me in. They’ve even become the topic of my ruminations and in this poem, the topic of my art.
In case you aren’t familiar with the fish I talk about, I recorded 90 seconds of video to share here, so you can meet some of the fish in this poem!
And now, finally, the poem! Your feedback is welcome, as always!
Fish swim and play, oblivious to the artifice. Do they wonder why they can’t swim out beyond the glass? Do they know the barrel through which they swim is not a real barrel and anyway what is real? After all, it exists. Do they remember yesterday, when it did not? Or the ship in its place that lured one of them to their death? They seem happy enough. Curious if the cat beyond the glass might drop a flurry of food as it slinks and slithers by, licking his lips. If the humans do, why would it not? If it was danger they ever sensed in his careful attention, did they learn with every passing of that swishing tail that the glass keeps them safe from the natural order that would otherwise be their fate? Are they grateful to be saved to entertain two humans and a cat? One stalks them, one throws them food, the other cleans their tank. Their persistent hungry mouths swarm his hands, nibbling bacteria we can only fear. It’s all fodder to a fish. They dart in and out, sucking and nibbling plants whether real or fake, tip over the snail, who never fails to hold firmly when an algae wafer’s his aim. Fishy retribution for making them wait. All day long the otocinclus cling to walls and to plants, sucking away the slime with hungry little mouths. One oto closely tails another, determined to bond despite the singularity of their work. Platys and guppies swim and party like a frat, play all day long at the top of the tank. Cory cats, colorless as cadavers-- our skeleton crew of the tank, eat their way across the gravel full from their take. The mollies travel wherever they like, swirling sharkly in grays and blacks crowding and pursuing with bites. To each fish an order and all in its place. Ahh, to be a fish with such a fate. Never comes the questions of who will I be? or what will we eat? Every meal served twice daily at ten and eight. Where all have a job, an order, a place. by Michelle Beltano Curtis
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All rights Reserved. “Club Fed” may not be republished without permission of the author.