V. Penelope Pelizzon
The Mind Descending From Above
What have they to do with love's bleakest shapes,
these radiantly formed and tinted tropic fish
pouting, flirting, veiling themselves with pleated fans,
artfully poised as end-of-season debutantes?
The question might never surface in the mind
did not the stenciled pet-shop window filled with tanks
proffer their silvered, variously-saline worlds
below a sign for family and couples therapy
offered in a suite upstairs. So hot-tongued spouses
cooling towards divorce, and helplessly infertile couples
burning to be blessed, and parents whose adolescents
smolder in hormonal rage are all met walking up,
then fifty minutes later coming down, with box on box
on box of water and its abstract occupants.
And what have these to do with love?
Everything, in the mind descending from above.
The mind descending is distinguished, not
by sorrow since that's every place, but by its self-
projected metaphors, finding its own poses
enacted in each tank. What better illustration
of fixation on a failed romance than the tedious
glass-to-glass sweeping of the Dracula Plecostomus?
Nostalgia embodied, its aimless and feeble circling
hardly shimmers its shroud-like, midnight tail.
Another mind might recognize its shadow
showing through the Bloodfin Tetra's opal sides.
Despite red smudges darkening its dorsal edges,
each tiny fish is so sheer-skinned its bladder
glows, milky as a barium x-ray illuminating
years of swallowed guilt. And the Pineapple Swords--
there must be jealous minds among that school
darting and sparring in vivid thrusts. What imagined
infidelities avenged by their barbed dueling stripes?
Today, the tank of the Large Jack Dempsey
and the Medium Jack Dempsey is empty.
Have they died or did someone buy them?
Flushed, or flashing elsewhere in a brand-new tank,
a fishy domesticity with freshly-graveled floors of pink
and a little plastic diver who bobs and strews
pearl-ropes of oxygen from his bathyspheric hood?
What could the mind extend to match those pearls?
Bereaved, repeating once-learned phrases
newly understood"water cools not love"
one mind finds beside the Dempseys' crossed-out names
a rack displaying aquarium hobbyist magazines.
The first promotes Marine Gastropods:
Practical Snails For Your Kit, as if the liquid realm
most benefits when prudence anchors it.
But for this human mind and its imprudent world,
its terrestrial-yet-fluid life, what self-defining mooring
besides the empty glass? Perhaps this absence
proves the earlier conjecture wrong:
not projection, defines the mind descending from above.
Is that why the mind finally leaves the ghostly
Dempseys' vacant tank, and passes down fluorescent
bubbling aisles? It feels what it sees,
and is drawn to a standstill before the smallish
Gold-Piece Mollies. Despite their name
suggesting clannish tartan lasses armed with flintlocks
hijacking the highland stagethey're not much to look at.
Maybe at some forgotten evolutionary point
their modest dust of shining scales lay thicker.
But they possess a confidence of motion,
neither splenic dashing nor dully-gaping catatonia,
which balances the water's fluctuating currencies
of weight and salt and temperature. The mind absorbs
their steady tolerance to fingers tapping on the glass.
A scotch-taped card announces that the Mollies
are on sale this week, "priced special" at ninety-nine cents
for two. What mind descending could afford to miss
if not buying, at least seeingthe attentive, gently-testing
gestures of this once-flamboyant, least-expensive fish?
From The Southern Review36.3 (2000) and Nostos (Ohio University Press, 2000).