The FootHills Poets: Mary Strong Jackson

Here’s a poem from Mary Strong Jackson’s chapbook, Witness. She lives and blogs in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

The Ordeal of Eating Fish

I hold the dead fish
feel the firmness of fin and tail
touch the eye on a dare from my brother
we clean fish on a board
I pull the spoon across the scales
as my dad does against the grain against the flow
against the smooth way

mother sets the table
with the usual poor people side dishes
radishes, salt and pepper, white bread stacked on a plate,
oleo, oleo, oleo chant little entertainers
Dale next door offers cucumbers and says
if he was any happier he’d be dead

not being seafaring people
whose children inhale the ways
of fish and the daily catchers of fish
and become accustomed to the usual smell of fishy gear
we know the smell of truck grease
and that stale beer smell when you tip a can from the pile
in the wheelbarrow and a drop of stink drips out
we know the feel of ball bearings across our palms
and the hot bright snap of welding sparks
that’ll make us blind if we look

each bite of fish
another step on this dining tightrope
push the fish around the plate
the fish I scaled
the one whose eye I touched
I’ve not been blinded by sparks
or backed over by greasy trucks
or died from dares

but fish days frighten mother
bones too many bones
to catch in small throats
worse than when words attached to guts
that won’t come out or stay down
like fish on stringers

mother puts a slice of bread on each plate
theory is swallowed bite of bread
pushes a stuck bone down

but it would work
might I live with a bone
lodged crossways
only to eat soup and milk forever after

mother repeats the rules
watch for bones pick them out
chew, chew, chew

dare I swallow
I’d like to chance the welder’s arc
one more time

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