Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: The Goldfish

Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate

Poet Mekeel McBride, from Kittery, writes: “I told a friend that my goldfish had died. He scoffed, said, ‘I'm a journalist. I deal with things that really matter.’ I felt ashamed for even mentioning it but later, this poem taught me what really does matter and why.”

The Goldfish by Mekeel McBride

It was a feeder, which means it was supposed 
to get fed to something bigger like a barracuda.
But I put the ten-cent comet in clean water
with enough food, no predators, and it grew
into a radiant glider full of happy appetite.
That was the truth of it for a long time and then
the fish, for no reason that I could see, suddenly
curled upside down into a red question mark.
Now, its golden scales drop off like sequins
from a museum dress and its mouth forms over
and over the same empty O. Though I wish to,
there’s no way to free it, not even for a second,
from its own slow death. You say this fish is the least
of it, that I’d better start worrying about what’s 
really wrong: a child chained somewhere
in a basement, starving; the droop-eyed man,
cooking up, in a cast-iron kettle, germ stew
that will end the world. But that’s exactly what I said.
The golden thing is dying right on the other side
of the glass; I can see it and there’s nothing I can do.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2006 by Mekeel McBride. Reprinted from Dog Star Delicatessen, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006, by permission of Mekeel McBride. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to David Turner, Special Assistant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at poetlaureate@mainewriters.org or 207-228-8263.