Fish Out of Water

By Matt Fitzgerald              

I never knew me then.

If I were a duckling, I would have been shaking off the down:

For I was doubtful and unprepared for life.

But my grandfather would take me by the hand; 

Show me the way of the breadwinner.

This steely man had broken-in many days.

I saw these days on his face and many other faces.

I felt the toughness of his fingers—like dry fat sausages—

Where the creases, the years, fixed him good.

Through the double-wash, he took me to the boat.

A wholesome odour fell off him.

He was long-wooled and slow-speaking and quiet.

There were short-wooled waders too:

Uncles, fathers and sons, nieces and nephews,

Ghosting under the full speculation of the stars.

There were half-caught words drifting in the darkness.

And as we sculled away in a slightly snarling sea, 

I could see him wincing through curling caps.

Shirking off the nacre water,

Shuffling his sailing combover,

Glancing at the seawings above us. 

The gill floats pitched in the sea like speckled dinosaur eggs.

I thought ahead of him and grabbed one.

“Hook it on,” he said. 

We curled back to shore.

The liquid wash of the sea hummed like a hive.

The strain on his face flushed him pink with each draw.

The shore, an eye-train of lamplit watchers,

Moved to meet us and we to them.

The net came alive with tail-flappers;

The beach came alive with movement.

A host of silvery, slivery muscles surfaced in a silent scream.

What if these fish had voices? I thought.

They tinged with galaxies of reds and browns. 

They were coiled at the throat,

Snouting their last breaths—opening, closing, opening. 

My grandfather offered a reassuring smile which I took.

Then he whacked them off the gunwale. 

Their tails didn’t flap any longer.

If I had a tail, it wouldn’t have flapped either.

Then I met him—

The boy I did not know. 

Brought out by the man who always knew me. 

Knew me better than I.