“Fish Tank” by Sarah Pemberton Strong

Sarah Pemberton Strong


My daughter has dropped two slices
of her plum into the fish tank.
The black molly, after circling around,

is nibbling at the sticker I neglected
to remove: Product of Mexico.
I’m on the phone long distance

with my teacher in England,
who suggests I might begin
each session of meditation

(Buddhist, from India) with a bit
of appreciation for my body.
Not for the cleverness

of my fingers, or the back handspring
I could turn at the distant
and limber age of thirteen.

Consider your organs,
he says; the liver, the kidneys,
the spleen, all doing their work

so perfectly together. Right now
that work is taking place
at a kitchen table in Connecticut,

where I’m watching my sweet girl
with her fish, and drinking tea
grown in the Yunnan province of China.

A China that is everywhere,
just as is—my teacher says—compassion.
And I believe him,

though mostly I forget it,
just as I forget the factories
inside me, how they work

throughout the night without pause,
becoming visible
only when something goes wrong,

as the glass wall of the fish bowl
is visible to the fish
only by the green bloom of algae

across it. Through which
my daughter’s eyes and mine
now gaze through the water at

her offering, dropped down
from another world
that is this world.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Tribute to Buddhist Poets


Sarah Pemberton Strong: “The poem ‘Fish Tank’ grew out of my experience of having to radically shift my definition of dharma practice. Before I became a mother, ‘practice’ meant ‘time spent in sitting meditation.’ The first few years of parenthood forced me to turn my attention to the many hours spent off the cushion as well. I have been blessed with a wonderful teacher in the Insight/Vipassana tradition, who appears in this poem—as in my life—to remind me of the wisdom of the body, and that compassion connects us all.”

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