Literature 1-21-2008

What Light : This Week’s Poem: James Henderson

This week's poem by veteran What Light winner, James Henderson, entitled "Go Fish," was selected by acclaimed poet Leslie Adrienne Miller.


Go Fish

The goldfish swims in its bowl.
It was a gift to my daughter from her boyfriend,
a white comet carp with a blaze of orange
on its muzzle because she first wanted a horse,
then a puppy, then a parrot, then a hamster.
That was Valentine’s Day; now it’s November.
The romance is over. He’s left her for another girl
and my daughter’s left for college
to study international business.
But the fish remains—this symbol of love,
once hailed as proof,
this dime store equivalent of the burning bush—
for me to feed, for me to clean its bowl.

So, what I want to know is:
How do you get rid of a goldfish?
I mean, without leaving any telltale signs?
I can’t just flush it down the toilet,
say, “It made a break for the open sea.”
My daughter will be home for Thanksgiving,
and though I’m sure it’s crossed her mind:
        small pet = small love
she values all life as sacred, as I’ve taught her.

Maybe I could surreptitiously slide a jar
of tartar sauce next the fish’s bowl,
or press my nose to the glass and meow.
Oh, who am I kidding, in two short stanzas,
I’ve become attached to the fish,
come to see its survival as my parental duty.
Even if I flushed the fish down the toilet,
I’d worry if he made it to the sea,
if he found his own kind.
Just as I’m now worried he’s lonely
swimming back and forth over electric blue
gravel past white pillars of the once glorious
but now sunken temple to Aphrodite.
Just as I’m worried about all the fish in the sea
carnival-coutured in their cloistered academies
first enamored by demand, then horrified by supply.


My poetry comes, as I believe much poetry does, from the interaction of nature and human nature. For me, it is of the moment, the moment when nature either causes me to recognize how I feel or creates within me a feeling. The poem is then a record of how an experience with nature moves me to understand my place in it.


James C. Henderson is a poet in the MFA program at Hamline University. He lives in New Brighton, Minnesota with his wife and granddaughter, both subjects and the inspiration for much of his work. His poetry has appeared online at Double Dare Press, 42opus, Poetry Midwest, and Haute-Dish.