Su Min Kim

To speak for fish

Silver-scaled salmon bare their white stomachs
at the open fish markets of Noryangjin. Their fins cock slightly
in a half-hearted farewell, their eyes clouded over
like spoilt milk. I clutch my sister’s hand.
Don’t be afraid, they’re dead! she says, but one fish quivers
on its side. We parade in yellow raincoats and
polkadotted boots down the exhibition of the dead.
Grandfather greets us, puffing up gentle clouds
with his cigar. He coughs a toothy grin. A mouth full of leaden teeth.
My little princess, you’ve gotten so big! He pats my head
with hands smelling of urine. He takes my wrist,
colored the underbelly of bass, and slaps my hand
to the side of a salmon adorned in ice. It flinches —
I flinch. Its tailfin thrashes wildly. My small hands curl
into pale rocks. Cold skin. Warm scales.
This guy’s still strugglin’ a bit, eh? chuckles Grandfather, pouring
more ice. I wonder if fish can feel their bones freezing
over, a lacquered coat of sea glass bruising lilac and blue, if
ice cubes in their mouths gag all the words they have left. Watching
fish, I am left red, an ice cube in my mouth,
melting away like lemon drops, Grandfather’s finger against
my lips. I want to spit, despite my lips, juices trickle
down my chin, a floral scent, and the fish watches me,
choked with ice, daring me to spit, spit in front of it,
drowned in ice. And I can’t. So I swallow, throat
ravaged by silver scales, words gurgling in my mouth,
holding the words of fish in the pits
of my white stomach.

©2016 by the author. Used with permission.

About Su Min Kim
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