Engendering: For Two Voices



Not all golden
but garish — mutations: vermillion;
pitch-black; vivid blue…

I remember when
I fed koi crumbled crackers,
Cheerios, back

in Baltimore, heard
their mouths’ bob bob, buoys above
the water’s surface.

Telescope eyes
bulge and pivot; diaphanous fins
drift in ribbons

I was fifteen. A boy
showed me his fish farm. Red
hair fell over his

forehead, glimmered
over his freckled arms. Once
I caught him blushing.

(curtains at an open
window); tiny gliders slice
like scythes through the shallows;

He showed me graceful
fantails, eye-popping Moors,
calicoes, electric

blue shubunkin. “Autumn
brocade,” he catalogued, “quick,
not shy.” Lionhead

blue indigo —
ink tattoos its tattering
stippling fintails;

veiltails, worth twice their
weight in gold, we fed with chopsticks.
“Put your fingers right

here, feel sandpaper
over the gills; males have it.”
Helter-skelter, how

Narial’s gills pulse
like twinned valves, celestial’s
eyes are fixed firmly

we seined koi into
plastic bags. Gossamer veils
trailed from the dragonfish

he handed me; the weight
of the bag in my hand was
like holding a puddle.

toward heaven, mouth open,
choirboy holding the long
last note. He tells me

“Japanese keep these
in ceramic bowls, outdoor
pools. Viewed from above,

it’s good for a fish
to have a skyward eye.”
We both looked down until

a bubble-eye does headstands,
belly bumping, groping along
a floor it cannot see…

Ryukin’s leap sent
him high over the water’s
surface: koinobori,

low clouds, pond pocked with
rain, our fingers intertwined
and eyes still open.



I paint pictures, not
women — as, when I say blue,
I never mean the sky…

These goldfish circling
in their bowl (with its faint scent
of just-turned earth) are

curves she contemplates,
chin to arm to chest, here in
his studio, still

before a quartet
of faceless nudes smudged in one
corner, or the tapestry

of Persian-red curves,
like the fish swirling in that
bowl, the brush curling

When I’m painting, I
See how everything is
design: pure color,

on the palette, the arc
of her shoulder… her expression blank
as the page before her —

she’s going to write
something, but what? Billowing
sails of the goldfish?

Chill of her skin as
she poses still for him? Koi
back-stitched in heavy

brocade, there on that
kimono she cast aside
while pillowing there?

The space occupied by
the body, or the empty
space surrounding it…



Brass-yellow bubbler’s
eyes are marble-sized: water
wings, fluid-filled

First: spasmodic twitchings
of tail; internal pulsations;
irregular blobs

kidneys, scrotal pouches.
Old goggle-eye, he cruises
the mating pond, where

of black and grey.
newsprint. Four days: poppy seed
eyes; the spine shows dark.

milling, gravid with
eggs, females roil, here in
the shallow murk, darting

Five days: hatchling
sloughs the silvery yolk, splits
the soft husk in one

to mats of Spanish
moss stacked like sofa pillows.
Wriggling, shimmying,

violent rending.
Week’s end: he begins the hasty
search for shelter

forcing their way
among the frenzied females,
males bump, then curve

among feathering
fronds of sea fern. Ten days:
baby koi flute through water

into pairs… Lulling,
they retreat to deeper pools.
The moss beads thick

swimming in an arc

with these orbs:

like punctuation