after Elizabeth Bishop
He was a mottled, brown-yellow,
big and beautiful in his shiny fish way,
all muscle and slick and I was afraid
to loosen the grip I’d been taught
to use when holding a catfish.
A fifteen year-old girl, I hadn’t been afraid
to bait the hook, to cast the line, to reel in
this fish, the biggest I’d ever caught,
the fish that would be dinner, but
I had to look this catfish in the eye
to pull out that hook and put him in
the bucket of lakewater to await the knife.
It scared me: a catfish has teeth in its throat
and stinger fins that can lodge in flesh
like a poisoned arrow. And this catfish
was fighting for his life, thrashing and
writhing against my hands to escape me,
to escape the barb sunk into the flesh of his jaw.
Watching him, I remembered how I battled
like a hooked fish the day two boys
from the neighborhood jumped me,
grabbed my arms and legs, dragged me
down the street, said they were going to rape
me, so I kicked and bit and scratched
and screamed while they held me,
but finally they dropped me from their hands
to the ground, finding I was too much trouble,
knowing I’d make sure to hurt them, badly,
even if it hurt me too, even if it ripped my own flesh.
Later, on the street, they didn’t look me in the eye.
I held that catfish tight in my hands as he fought
and asked him to forgive my cruelty. I did not let go.
About the Author
Adrienne Pilon is a writer, editor, and teacher. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Linden Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Minyan, and elsewhere. She is a native Californian transplanted in North Carolina.