Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 9 • Spring 2004 • Poetry


Minal Hajratwala


On the first day
the fish wrapped in straw
starts to stink.

On the second day
if you walk by the barn
it enters your clothes.

That evening your wife
sniffs your suit
but says nothing.

On the third day
dressed in your skin
the fish begins to walk.

Your friends know
to hold their breaths.
This is not the first time.

If nothing else happens
the fish retreats
to its mean nest.

You shower.
It sleeps
waiting for you.

Fish oils
soak the hay
of the whole barn.

The chickens begin to dream
of seaweed,
of roe.


In the middle of it
the fish
is the wisest
truest thing you know.

It whispers
sweet sauces --
We are brought here to love, yes,
but not blindly.

Its jelly eye
winks at you
codes of Morse --
No remorse.

Every oracle
takes its price,
skin for scales,
gold for gills.

Some days
it is a bargain.
Or else it costs
everything you have.


I was raised without the fish
as some children are raised without candy
or time.

No one in my family spoke of it
as no one spoke then of cities
or queers.

Somehow in the cradle, rocking,
I caught a whiff; or in the crib clutching
at rails

a bit of fish caught
rough in my scream.

Since then the fish has grown in me
like bubblegum or seeds of water

Since then we're bosom tight
thick as thieves sealed with a
kiss -- kin.

Is this what I meant
when I longed for teeth?
Is this what they meant

when they named me fish?
Soon I shall slit my

to stroke its silver scales
bilious, slippery
as love.


At last the fish
swallows its own tail

scale by creamy scale
orgy of self-

righteous lips
on sharp bone

tongue sucking spine
vertebra by vertebra

teeth shredding
gummy ovaries

ripe with black meat
millions of living

egg of fish.
Belly full of self

soft pulsing
heart of fish

parallel eyes

white gills

with the last sea.
When the fish

is all jaw
row of incisors

grinding plankton
coral salt

churning oceans
like milk

into sweet fat

then I will be ready
for you.

...who 'wrap up' anger -- that is, wrap around [themselves] repeatedly the anger based on the thought 'he reviled me,' and so on, like wrapping up the pole of a cart with thongs, or putrid fish with straw -- when enmity arises in such persons, it is not appeased, pacified.
-- Dhammapada I.4

Minal Hajratwala's non-fiction book about the Indian diaspora as lived by her extended family is expected to be published by Houghton-Mifflin in 2005. Her poems and performance works have been published in various literary journals and anthologies. She was a writing fellow at the Sundance Institute in 1999, an artist-in-residence at the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts in 2000, and a fellow in the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University in 2000-2001. Her solo performance work, "Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium," premiered at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in 1999. She lives in San Francisco and is a graduate of Stanford University.

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