This poem was selected as a finalist for the 2021 MAYDAY Poetry Prize.
When her eldest son died, her youngest
and I placed two fighting beta fish
into the small pond by the front door.
You need to understand how much they were promised.
We watched our faces on the mirror below us,
then he said, The secret’s
that I found a second full syringe beside his body.
Can you knot a promise to that knowing
someone left him to die,
so it will sink inside of you and never float back up?
In the backyard, we pulled green oranges from the limbs
to throw against the cinderblock wall until our palms
stuck to our skin,
But what about those fish?
They boiled in the Phoenix heat before
surprising my aunt with color against slime.
You see many years would go by before I watched her die
and then drove away, and back then I could still look myself
in the eyes—no ducking away from mirrors,
no avoiding bodies of water in sunlight,
and I did not know how much we take with us
when we die. That night the birds sat throat latched
with silence in the citrus leaves
as we swam in the blue pool,
taking turns underwater,
trying to hear each other scream.
LINDSAY WILSON is an English professor at Truckee Meadows Community College where he edits The Meadow. He received a Silver Pen from the Nevada Writers’ Hall of Fame, and his poetry has appeared in The Colorado Review, Verse Daily, and The Carolina Quarterly. His most recent chapbook, Because the Dirt Here is Poor, is available from Main Street Rag.