Dream Carp

People traveled from miles away to see
my paintings of fish—
the jeweled armor of their scales, the beadlike

set of their eyes in
rubbery socket rings, the glimmering
swish of fin and tail

so real it seemed that you could almost dip
a net deep into
the paper and pull up the arching wet

weight of a golden carp,
a shiny trout, or the dark muscular
heft of a bass with

its mouth stretched into the surprised, wiry
“oh” of a child’s wind
sock. I captured my models from the sea,

lake, and goldfish pond
in the back garden, so careful not to
let their mouths be torn

by the hook, their scales chipped, or the silky
tissue of their tails
ripped by a clumsy hand. I kept them in

large glass bowls, fed them
mosquito wings or dry silkworm pupas
offered from chopsticks,

and when I was finished making sketches,
I quickly took them
back and set them free again. Every

night I dream I swim
with these fish as a golden carp—black spots
on cloisonné scales,

pulled to the surface by the deceptive
creamy luster of
the moon or the sizzle of firefly lights

across the water.
And every night I am tempted once
again by the smell

of the baited hook, by my predictable
hunger for earthly
things, and each time I am surprised again

by the stinging hook
in my lip that pulls me mercilessly
into the bright air,

setting my gills on fire, the sharp, silver
pain of the knife that
slits me open so easily from tail

to throat to reveal
the scarlet elastic of my raw gills,
the translucent film

of my air sac, the milky rise of my
stomach, and the gray
marbled coil of my intestines. I rise

late each day, and work
in brighter light. When I die, I will
have my paintings brought

down to the lake and slipped into the water.
First the edges of
ink will blur, and then there will be a great

flurry as the fins,
tails, and bodies begin blossoming in-
to life again, each

fish detaching from its canvas of silk
or rice paper—a
swirl of color, motion, swimming away

– Lee Ann Roripaugh