in the cup where I placed him while I changed
out the water in his tank. I yell like my arm
has just fallen off. “Lani Lani where is your fish?
Molly come here! Where is the fish?
Where is the fish?” searching the desk,
the carpet, the pencil-cup. Leilani finds
Bubbles tangled in hair in the trash can below.
I cradle him and splash him back into the cup.
His gills fan weakly, his tail waves and stills.
I have heard of betta fish jumping, but I did not believe.
I only placed a paper on top of the cup
as I left the room to sift the aqua rocks,
to run the lime-green silicone plant under scalding steam.
Lani now curls in a fetal scream on her bed.
I feel responsible so the floor keeps falling
out of my stomach, my lungs deflate and whistle.
The grief is immeasurable for a two-inch fish,
because I forced death upon my
8-year-old daughter with my carelessness.
I tore open the safety of her womb
and now lifelessness sinks to the bottom
and inks my fingers, darkens her mouth
and her trembling lips.
But the fish stirs when we swirl the cup,
and when we drop him into his clean tank
he does struggle softly against descent.
Lani stops crying, my head tingles with hope.
I check on the fish every 10 minutes.
“He is going to live, he is going to live,”
I repeat, my daughter staring at the gills
which have somehow continued breathing.
The next morning Bubbles calmly surveys
his translucent world with a mangled tail fin.
I am no longer a murderer. And my daughter
can still walk amongst the dew.
Editor’s Choice Award for MacQ-5
helps our veterans heal, as an RN. His writing appears in American Journal of Poetry, Cultural Weekly, KYSO Flash, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Misfit, Noble/Gas Qtrly, Slippery Elm, Spillway, and Swimming with Elephants, among others. His first collection, The only thing that makes sense is to grow, was published by Moon Tide Press in December 2019. His second book, Mr. Rogers kills fruit flies, will be published by Main Street Rag in October, 2020.