In Malaysia, If you cut it up small enough you can feed a family of five on one small fish
Little fish swim in moss sewn nets —
swim as far as the hash mark
crackers crushed in the hand,
dropped on the water’s surface.
Breathe under water.
Come up for air and die.
Most girls start at eight,
begin by sweating at daybreak.
Parents in over their head —
sell their daughters.
Tie the line, drop it down
Learn the art of disappearance into murky water.
Breathe it in. Learn to swallow
blackness dark enough to hold back regret or the sun in a Sakichan
Little fish multiply so quickly —
prized for their scales
the glitter of their backs.
Become eight, become ten again or eleven.
Follow 35 year old men into hospitals where doctors
test your blood , sign your virgin papers.
An eight year old girl is worth $1,500, and a ten only $800
Little fish wait in dark rooms
and cry into crushing pressure —
Swim into dark ropes small enough to see the way out,
but too weak to find it.
Little fish stay in hotel rooms, breathe into the no air
of men’s breath, stare upwards at wallpaper border
made out of sailboats —
bleed on bed sheets and stare out at windows.
Little fish run away, some cut free from the nets,
drift into freefall or lost in current,
where mother’s tear salt mixes into ocean,
Little fish learn to hold their breath like a razor blade under the tongue,
stay still as a rock under the shadow play of water,
the “I’ll never do that again” hands that reach for your slippery gills.
She’ll hold a knife and lift you
out into the light, still moving,
glide that blade down your belly evenly —
make sure there’s enough for everyone.
Robert Walicki's debut chapbook is A Room Full Of Trees (Redbird Press). His work has appeared in Stone Highway Review, Pittsburgh City Paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Grasslimb, and Transient Publishing. In 2013 he won second runner up in the Finishing Line Press' Open Chapbook Competition and was awarded finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. He lives in Verona, PA where he curates a monthly reading series, VERSIFY.