My Mother is a Fish

by Peter Balakian

Peter Balakian


My mother is a fish
and the sky is low and orange,
and the long grass rises
in the still air.
The mud is black
and worms turn
their cold segments
at my feet.

I used to walk
with an old lady.
It seemed far from water
and the ground sank.
Weeds were higher
than my head.
Slugs slept
in the mud.

My mother is a fish
and the sky swallows my head.
A fine rain comes
and softens the ferns.

In March before the crocus
and the lily,
eggs bunch in the shoal
of green jelly.
Crabs glide through them.
A kingfisher is dead
on a rock.

My mother is an eel
winding a light
around the rock.
Even without a moon
the black glows.


The sun grows like an egg
over the bridge,
the first birds are silver
and swoop down for my mother.

When the lady came
we jumped—
She took us to find worms
we could squeeze
in our hands.

I went with my father
to the dark water.
I went with a bucket
of mud.
When we doubled the worm
on the hook and it coiled,
I could hear how a bass
could thud.

I grabbed it
with a wet hand,
and watched its eye
go black
as I dropped it
in a metal bucket.

Hack it along the gill
and throw the head to the gulls.

My mother is a fish
and flutters in my bucket.
The sky is a fleck of stones
on the night water.
Turns my arms silver.

The wind calls my father
out to where bigger birds
call and caw and spin,

where my father goes
and leaves me with the mud
and gulls on the patchy water.

June-Tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000

Last updated February 19, 2023