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"like a ribbon in a sea of light"

Published onMay 07, 2023

Photo by Tep Dara:

Last week I went to the neighbors
to feed their dogs and fish.

As I watched their betta
floating on the windowsill

like a ribbon in a sea of light,
I found myself thinking

that it’s no small wonder
they will fight to the death

in a shared tank. The water
is gloomy, the temperature immoderate,

the treatment is never quite right.
The filter whines and screeches

like a colic infant. Incessant light
shines through the four walls

of their glass house, and every meal
is scattered above them like bread crumbs

on a ceramic countertop.
I remember being told, as a boy,

that certain fish would rather
tear each other apart

than share their space.
I remember my parents

calling us upstairs for dinner
blindsiding us with the news

that dad was leaving.
I used to think it was worse,

my parents never fighting—
because I never saw it coming.

The way death sneaks up
on a fish. One minute

its swimming, occupying space
in the small world of its tank,

the next its belly up, bloated,
swirling in porcelain.

Brandon McQuade was born and raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. He earned his B.A. from the University of New Brunswick Saint John and his M. Phil in Irish Writing from Trinity College Dublin. For a selection of poems from his second collection, Bodies, he was the recipient of the 2022 Neltje Blanchan Memorial Writing Award. He lives in Northern Wyoming with his wife and their children.

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