“Cleaning” by Katrina Outland

Katrina Outland


I almost laughed when I corrected
without thinking
the man on TV describing the proper
way to slice open the body
of a fish. Not, as he said,
starting at the throat slicing down;
it’s much easier, I said
to go the other way and it was you
tiptoeing your eyes towards me
that almost made me laugh
like the maniac you imagined me to be
so I shut up. It’s not your fault
you could never understand how easy
it is to learn the numb sodality with death
how even at that moment

my hand muscles were recalling the precise
grip around the tail, knife point
in the vent—soft opening
for all the unpleasant fluids—
and one smooth slash up
through intestine, stomach, esophagus
blade like an apathetic decision
between asymmetrical liver lobes,
snug into the crook of operculum—
name perfectly round and protective—
around that plate of bone splaying
the brilliant fringe of gills.
The heart a tiny gem tumbling out.

One slice, anus to mouth,
through shit and acid and blood
one smooth motion from whole
to empty.
It’s much easier this way,
to draw that line between
living and hollow
starting at the most
vulnerable point, avoiding
teeth and bone, the death
a clean surprise
ending on a still tongue.

My hands remember each one
became skilled at carving
at recognizing so well the ease
from one side of that delicate
edge to the other.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists


Katrina Outland: “Though I was born in the deserts of Wyoming, I somehow developed a lifelong obsession with the ocean. Directing that love to the sciences, I moved to Hawaii to earn my Bachelor of Science in marine biology, where I first got to dive with sharks in the wild. After that, I moved to Washington state where, for the past eight years, I have been a field sampler for the state Fish and Wildlife Department. Basically, I get to travel around to gorgeous fishing spots and fill out a lot of data sheets with my slime and fish scale-covered hands. One year of my life was also spent gathering fisheries data onboard Alaskan commercial fishing boats for the National Marine Fisheries Service. That was very cold. Both science and poetry have so deeply entrenched themselves into my life since childhood that I find it stranger to try to separate them than to note their differences. Both are different aspects of exploring the truth in life. Just as creative thinking has opened new solutions in my fisheries career, scientific thinking has directed my poetry to be more honest and examine the intricacies beyond the surface appearance of things. Strangely enough, I know a lot of biologists who don’t like to write, and I know a lot of poets who don’t like dissecting things, so I particularly revel in getting both out of their comfort zones.”

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