It was my fault.
It was one of the few Spanish words
I knew, and it was what I always ordered after all.
But now the cook calls me that
whenever I walk into the narrow restaurant.
Hey Mr. Pescado, he says.
How is Mr. Pescado?
But there’s an undertone there
that’s begun to bother me.
Everyone wants a nickname,
but this one seems to fit too well.
He wants to know why I don’t branch out
and try another dish, offering me a pinky-sized
dry spare rib that I pretend to enjoy.
Well, I say, dabbing my mouth with a napkin,
I’m Mr. Pescado.
He nods his head and grimaces a little.
It seems we’ve worked our way
into a bit of a corner, the two of us.
I’m not entirely happy with the nickname,
especially when my nose is running
and his whole family is there at closing time
shouting it at me in unison,
and maybe he’d like me to try something else
on the menu that he always lists for me:
Carnitas, pollo, spaghetti, al pastor,
pancakes, pancakes with bacon, pancakes with
eggs, silver dollar …
You have kids Mr. Pescado, he says, Correct?
I do have kids, but I’m not sure Mr. Pescado would.
Mr. Pescado seems like the kind of guy
who conserves toilet paper and hangs a Jets flag
outside his home every Sunday.
No, I say. No ninos.
But you told me … he starts to say.
I lied, I say. Because Mr. Pescado would lie
about that type of thing just to mess around.
But Mr. Pescado has a dog, I say,
turning quickly to his child
and barking sharply once.
She flinches, and Mr. Pescado laughs.
German Shepherd, he adds. Incontinent.
Strange the way a whole life
can begin to take shape.
I don’t really like your ribs, Mr. Pescado says,
thoughtfully wiping the congealed sauce
off his hairless upper lip
and delicately placing the waxy napkin
on the counter.
The cook’s expression has changed.
It’s a cross between being angry
and wanting to go back to the times
I was just a customer without a name.
Buenos tardes, I say, giving him the finger
behind my back as I walk toward the door,
his child pressing her back against the pale green wall.
That color has always pleased Mr. Pescado
because it feels like a child’s painting of a forest,
a green that would slip past skeletal trees
and try to join some cloud somewhere.
Out on the street, I sadly start to
feel like myself again,
right about the point where
those fake flowers memorialize
the drunk who was hit by a town car.
Tomorrow, I decide,
I’ll be Mr. Chicken Francese
or whatever else he wants,
but give me one more night
scraping the depths of this broken soul
placing tiny containers of green sauce
on either side of the beige fish just so,
as if he were about to make an offering.
The plastic utensils as delightfully light
as the bones of small birds
in his thick, gray hands.
—from Rattle #67, Spring 2020
Matt Marinovich: “‘Mr. Pescado’ came about after I made a habit of ordering the exact same item on the menu at the tiny El Diamante Café, which sits under the shadows of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Every week, I’d order the fried fish, so the owner started calling out ‘Mr. Pescado!’ as soon as I walked in the door. One night, around closing time, the whole family was sitting there, and they all shouted out my new name. So the idea for the poem started there, with this kind of temporary assumed identity, and how one might easily slip into being an entirely different person. Though the part about pretending I was a dog and barking at his kid is completely fictional, I swear.”