Red and orange leaves under the frozen surface of a bond.

Once, sitting out at night in Maryland
in the summer with humidly so thick
it could make your body vibrate, the guy
I’d been dating for two years—even figured
I’d marry—told me how he entertained
himself during dull cop shifts at the NSA
by roping off a particular hallway
frequented by a brilliant employee
with autism. Laughing, he described
the man’s distress—routine disrupted,
anxious, not knowing where to turn.
I’m telling you—the story was quick,
it darted around and left like a firefly
electrifying the backyard only briefly.
What a wonderful guy, my friends all said.
So tall, so handsome. Look how he makes
such lovely dinners and drives you to work
in the worst snowstorms
. Such things
covered over the story of the man
in the hallway and others like it too.
Like the time his high school science teacher
gave him a bad grade for failing to fully
detail the movements of the classroom fish.
Undetected, he poured detergent in the tank
one day after school, burning every gill.
In front of the class, he asked, seriously,
How should I describe their movements now?
Should I just say—”like a dead fish”?

I’d like to say I figured it out and was the one
to end it, but it was the other way around.
At the time, I could only remember the lovely
dinners and the snowstorms and how tall he was.
My bits of self were like the ornamental goldfish
that cluster together at the bottom of my parents’
pond in winter, surviving together in torpor,
home threatening to freeze right through.
Listen—people will tell you who they are.
Please pay attention because that pond always
thaws out in spring and none of the fish are dead.

Photo by Mike Pedroncelli, used and adapted under CC.