Kristen Case

Fish (for everybody)

A cliché is not to be despised: its automatic comfort is the happy exteriority of a shared language which knows itself perfectly well to be a contentless but sociable turning outward toward the world.

                                                                                                                                                 —Denise Riley


You’re sitting on the porch reading and its a perfect end-of-July night, and the whole scene has to be understood in that context, in the context of the impossible golden 6:00 light of the end of July, because really is there any hour that is more loaded, more full of beauty and death than 6:00 at the end of July? Anyway you’re there, with your beer and your Judith Butler, and your son comes up and says “wanna pway piwates on da stwuctoe?” and something about the way he says this, and in particular the way he uses the weird child-development-expert term “structure” instead of “swing-set” like a normal kid (or maybe, now that you think about it, a normal kid raised in the 70s, is swing-set an anachronism? like Atari?), something about this makes you say “yeah, okay, I’ll play pirates on the structure,” and this makes your kid so happy you want to die a little bit because its as if all he’s ever wanted in his life is someone to play pirates with him on the structure, and you think for the ten-thousandth time this week that you need to work less, do this kind of thing more, and you play pirates on the structure and you both are the captains and it’s totally great and you do some crazy thing about the swing being treasure and he hauls it up to the top of the swing-set and the light is amazing, is fucking perfect, and suddenly you realize that someday this swing-set will be decayed and abandoned and no one will have played on it for years and the swings will be broken and you’ll see it from out the kitchen window but you won’t be able to have it torn down because of your weird pseudo-mystical belief that the past inheres in objects, and suddenly you’re thinking about a little argument you had with a friend, a former student, who was telling you about something he read about time as an experience of pure loss, every present moment vanishing irrevocably in the act of coming to be, the now disappearing in its very event, etc., and you got a little curt about it; at the time, you thought it was because of his tone, because he was presenting this description of time as though it were the way time really is, when of course, who knows what time is? but now on the swing-set looking at your kid in the Monet’s-garden late July light and with the abandoned swing-set there hovering like a ghost on top of the actual one, you think the real reason you were curt is that it’s fucking true that time is the experience of pure loss and that it’s pouring lemon juice on the wound to be told this by a 23-year old, and just as you’re thinking this and working out a little apology in your mind – email or in person? in person, definitely – you remember the fish that you’d promised to feed while your friends are away on vacation, and with a little twinge of bitter amusement you remember too that you were happy to take on this challenge, as a way to say to your friends or maybe to the world, “look, at the end of the day, I’m the kind of friend who will feed your fish,” or maybe, “at the end of the day, I’m the kind of person who keeps the fish alive,” but now you’ve forgotten the goddamn fish at school and you have to quickly explain to your husband, who you can tell has had it with your absent-mindedness and your weird availability to always be feeding other people’s fish, and drive back to school and call facilities to unlock the preschool office and get the fish where your friend’s husband left them and then drive home with one eye on the little plastic tank on the passenger-side floor and the water splashing around, still thinking about the light and the abandoned swing-set and wanting not to miss bedtime, really wanting to be home now so you don’t miss it even though its already true that the swing set will be abandoned, that you will be an old person with nothing but time to work, and that will feel empty and miserable, and all your chances to be a better mom, a mom who plays pirates all the time, will have been spent, and then Carole King comes on the radio, which feels like a rebuke because now you’re crying a little and all your work feels like bullshit in relation to this Carole King song which can make you cry even though its full of clichés and your own writing seems garbage next to that, and you pull in the driveway and show your kids the fish and just as they’re dropping in the weird little pellets, you’re watching them watch the fish, you’re watching, but you’re also making a little note for later: swing-set, time, fish, Carole King.



“Fish (for everybody)” is from Little Arias (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2015).