by What Light: This Week's Poem   January 21, 2008

This week's poem by veteran What Light winner, James Henderson, entitled "Go Fish," was selected by acclaimed poet Leslie Adrienne Miller.

Go Fish

The goldfish swims in its bowl.
It was a gift to my daughter from her boyfriend,
a white comet carp with a blaze of orange
on its muzzle because she first wanted a horse,
then a puppy, then a parrot, then a hamster.
That was Valentineís Day; now itís November.
The romance is over. Heís left her for another girl
and my daughterís left for college
to study international business.
But the fish remainsóthis symbol of love,
once hailed as proof,
this dime store equivalent of the burning bushó
for me to feed, for me to clean its bowl.

So, what I want to know is:
How do you get rid of a goldfish?
I mean, without leaving any telltale signs?
I canít just flush it down the toilet,
say, ďIt made a break for the open sea.Ē
My daughter will be home for Thanksgiving,
and though Iím sure itís crossed her mind:
        small pet = small love
she values all life as sacred, as Iíve taught her.

Maybe I could surreptitiously slide a jar
of tartar sauce next the fishís bowl,
or press my nose to the glass and meow.
Oh, who am I kidding, in two short stanzas,
Iíve become attached to the fish,
come to see its survival as my parental duty.
Even if I flushed the fish down the toilet,
Iíd worry if he made it to the sea,
if he found his own kind.
Just as Iím now worried heís lonely
swimming back and forth over electric blue
gravel past white pillars of the once glorious
but now sunken temple to Aphrodite.
Just as Iím worried about all the fish in the sea
carnival-coutured in their cloistered academies
first enamored by demand, then horrified by supply.


My poetry comes, as I believe much poetry does, from the interaction of nature and human nature. For me, it is of the moment, the moment when nature either causes me to recognize how I feel or creates within me a feeling. The poem is then a record of how an experience with nature moves me to understand my place in it.


James C. Henderson is a poet in the MFA program at Hamline University. He lives in New Brighton, Minnesota with his wife and granddaughter, both subjects and the inspiration for much of his work. His poetry has appeared online at Double Dare Press, 42opus, Poetry Midwest, and Haute-Dish.