Vivian Shipley

Nature, red in tooth and claw


In Memoriam—Alfred Lord Tennyson


For the life of me, I can’t fathom why my son

spends hours floating by a breakwater protecting


New Haven’s harbor from Long Island Sound.

Trailing an eel or sand worm, Todd crams


his six feet, five inches into an orange kayak,

only to catch and release. If he were sensible,


thrifty like me, he’d utilize his time, stock up

on filets from blues or stripers. How can he fish


not for the meat but for the solitude, to nourish

his spirit? Tonight, it may have been a return


to childhood need to impress his father and me

that prompted him to bring back a striped bass


over forty inches long. Watching Todd hoist it

like bagged top soil for my camera, I figure—


fifty pounds. Calling the fish, she—it was too fat

to be a male—my son tries to return life he’s taken


back into the water. All elbows, wading by touch

in the pewter cove, slow dancing with the striper,


Todd holds her tail for well over a half an hour.

Because mosquitoes are biting his neck, I resist


saying the fish will end up a floater a day later.

Responding to my silent cheerleading on our deck,


she does not swim. I’d learned to rationalize death

of what I eat in a Siem Reap market while watching


a Buddhist Cambodian woman who would not kill

in order to eat flesh. Admiring fish just hauled out


of Tonle Sap, a large freshwater lake anchoring

the town’s southerly tip, she said a carp would be


perfect for a curry. Her mouth covered by one hand,

she mumbled it was too bad the fish was still alive.


The fishmonger caught up to her as she paused

at another stall shouting out the miracle—the carp


had suddenly died! Having given up on a resurrection

in the cove, my son appears to tease the striped bass


back to life separating skin with his knife, slicing

from behind the gill plate to the bottom of the spine.


Curious about what it’s eaten, plunging into the guts,

Todd pulls out a whole lobster then another claw.


To show off my Victorian PhD, I give my son a quick

course on Darwin’s Origin of Species. Even though


I know what he will find, I quote from In Memoriam:

we trust that somehow good /Will be the final goal


of ill. Blood slicking forearms, his hand probing, Todd

will feel how firmly the heart roots before it gives way.




from All of Your Messages Have Been Erased © 2010




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