Skin Like Starshine

Dead in the water,

a bright gash in the darkness

beneath the canal bridge,

the fish was easy to scoop up

and carry home.

It was the first dead thing

I had ever held

that was not food.

In the quiet of the untended

and untidy back garden

of the home that housed

an unmanned marriage

being slowly unmade,

I could look at it

without being looked at.

Wider than both of my

childish hands, the cold,

dead weight of it

was somehow significant.

I didn’t know what type of fish

it was. A perch that had

fallen, perhaps.

It didn’t matter.

It was beautiful.

In my hand, I could see

skin like starshine, scales,

a million little speckles of light,

twinkling brightly

as I moved the fish.

I frilled the fins, umbrellaed them,

spread them, felt the spines of them,

tiny masts for sails.

I looked inside

the silent mouth,

and wondered at the eyes

that didn’t look at me,

wondered what they had seen.

After a while, I put it somewhere safe,

the hiding place beside the garage.

The flies soon found it.

When I looked again, it was sagged

and maggotty and rank.

I covered it with bricks, not to hide it

or protect it. Like watching

what the grown-ups did,

I just wanted to stop

seeing it.

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