Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Red Scales
Julie Brooks Barbour

I named him and the fish outgrew every bowl I could find.
His fins overlapped each rim and water rippled out
when he tried to move. Finally I threw him into the pond

behind my house where he sank to the bottom
and waited for me to call. When I did, his large head
rose out of the water and he planted his face in my lap.

I stroked the red scales around his mouth while his gold eyes
searched my face. I fed him scraps after every meal.
My stepmother stood watching. One afternoon

she put on my clothes, wore his name on her lips,
and killed him. But that did not keep him from me.
I unearthed his bones from the dung hill

and hid them under my bed. Whenever I prayed
out of despair or desired something I knew
I could not have, those bones rattled. He gave me food.

He gave me pearls. He sent a gown of kingfisher feathers
and when I stroked its plumage, I felt his scales
at my fingertips, the rise and fall of his breath.

Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of the chapbook Come To Me and Drink (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Waccamaw, Kestrel, UCity Review, diode, Prime Number Magazine, Blood Lotus, storySouth, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Rumpus, and Verse Daily. She teaches at Lake Superior State University where she is co-editor of the journal Border Crossing.