Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Fugu Soup Blues

“Those who eat fugu soup are stupid. Those who don’t eat fugu soup are also stupid.”
–Japanese proverb

Nothing good can come out of eating
something named porcupine fish. It’s like
playing Russian Roulette when you cook it—
the pulse of toxin in its sweet little body
can kill thirty men. But this is the most delicious
of all fishes, the sweet meat almost sugared
and the salty broth mix—it’s worth any death.
Can you taste the pure poison hidden
in the skin folds? Can you forget what you eat
may kill you even as you wipe your mouth
with the back of your hand? Consider the way
the porcupine fish dies: it is the only fish
that can close its eyes. When a cleaver comes
near its head, it even winces. Sushi chefs complain
of the noise it makes on the chopping block—
like crying—even though fishermen always stitch
its small mouth shut. And the blinking.
Don’t we expect fish eyes to be dead-black
and dumb? You cannot stop this hunger. When
something this good can kill you, every pin prick
of white pain just adds more flavor. When
the waiter with the curvy smile asks if you want
seconds, set down your spoon. Say yes, but also please.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Fugu Soup Blues was originally published in Barrow Street (Spring 2004).
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2004, From the Fishouse