“The Aquarist” by Priscilla Atkins

Priscilla Atkins


Before his wife and children absconded
with the house
and left him to his fish life
in the garage—rows of aquariums
lined up where one would expect
tools, lawnmowers, badminton sets—
there had been dreams,
delicate and webbed
as underwater wisteria.

Now his days pass
in half-liquid, half-light:
like specific gravity,
the essentials have no unit of measure.
What’s the difference between
one tank and ten? Ten and a hundred?
Every morning, with a flick of a switch,
possibility descends
in fluorescent white robes,
sifting across the backdrop
of motor-hum and gurgling filter.

His little sausage fingers navigate baby tears
and water lettuce like flippers:
let’s transplant those tiger barbs
and tetras,
trim this African fern,
breed the indigo fighting fish.
At night, curled in the middle
of his damp mattress,
he listens for the swish of veiltail
and bleeding heart,
while constellations of stars
flicker through a darkened window.

from Rattle #18, Winter 2002

Rattle Logo