He Made Me Learn to Clean the Fish

Susan Abraham


Something he thought I should know,
that life was not just the thrill of expectation,
holding the bending rod out toward the water
hoping for a tug. That reeling in a prize
and bringing it home to eat could cut
your fingers, and the brutality of what you did,
with matter-of-fact attention to detail, ended lives.  
Out on the jetty, above the waves,
he cut off the head while the eyes watched,
blood spurting onto my bathing suit, staining
yellow polka dots, dripping down the navy
rick rack edging to my bare pink stomach.  
He insisted I learn how to hold the knife
and rub it against the scales so that they fell away,
slowing the painful details of it, not in a cruel way.
It was like learning to drive for him, or opening
a bank account, a way for him to show me how
to be an adult, that pleasure comes hard and slow.
And that the beautiful things that glinted underwater
could still be beautiful as long as you earned them,
even a small girl in a bathing suit could pick up the knife.


Susan Abraham is a poet and law professor who has published poems in the Paris Review, Poetry, Rattle, Tikkun, Upstreet, and other journals, has had poems collected in a poet/lawyer anthology, and has worked as a public defender, bar exam grader, ESL teacher, waitress, and pear picker.