Diadromous fish migrate between freshwater and saltwater. Some migrate great distances, while others migrate much shorter distances. In either case, these fish undergo physiological changes that allow them to survive.
My grandmother guts fish
in the garage, squatting
over bloodied plastic bags.
I ask her why fish eyes
never close, and if fish get to eat
the bait that captured them?
She doesn’t answer, instead
tells me about babies suckling
at empty breasts, monsoons
mocking thirst, hunger
My mother’s bedside table
holds a dog-eared Bible
and a Vietnamese-English dictionary.
She hopes that both speak
Her night prayers include
words like undercurrent
Some nights she asks God
to heal her accent, to exorcise
her stuttering fears.
Every year, my grandfather sends
Christmas cards overseas to
great-uncles and second-cousins.
Each card ends, “I wish
you peace and prosperity.”
Christmas is the only day he turns
the heater on, so visitors won’t know
about the frayed, secondhand layers
his family’s worn like fish scales
in their migration to murky waters.
He learns hunger
as he holds crickets
above an oil lamp,
pinching their wings between his
stubby toddler thumb and forefinger
each time the bread peddler speeds past
without stopping, each time
the wind offers a taste
of the neighbors’ rice pot steaming
above a blazing hearth
the flame licks the insects
before he dissolves
them on his tongue and
washes them down
with a sip of kerosene
saved for when the moon closes
its throbbing yellow eye
and becomes light.
& this is how we slept: hands folded
around help wanted ads, rainwater
& police siren songs slipping through
& this is how we woke:
a breakfast of three Ibuprofens, shoulders
hunched into a sloping roof. We closed
our eyes & the stack of bills became moths’ wings.
When our landlord called we pretended
the ringing was altar bells. In the beginning
were two people signing a lease
with empty hands.