Fish Guts — Brooke Paly

My father choked his fist around the fish

and with the sharp knife I wasn’t allowed to use yet

slit a precise cut into its belly

where rough fingers fumbled for innards to yank.

The oil spill of organs danced, sparkling,

onto the kitchen counter and clutched at the light

like hands on a throat that couldn’t breathe.

He began the stentorian symphony of spoon on spine,

scooping an anatomy lesson onto the newspaper for his daughter.

He pointed out which blackish mound was the liver, and I smiled

at the floor.


The fish was a murky bruise,

defeated and gasping at the hands invading him.

Blood splattered on the floor and my mother shrieked and

my father laughed.

My father laughed,

so I did too.


I’ve never gone fishing with anyone other than my father.

Before his fists hung heavy and volatile

with fingers like ribcages aching to snap, 

they taught me how to clean fish,

and I tried to get my hands as dirty as his.


When he was done, he gave the meat to my mother to cook

and rolled the guts and bones into the soggy newspaper.

After he threw the innards away,

I asked him if he ever felt sorry for the fish.

He laughed and said no,

so I laughed too

and allowed his hand to close itself onto mine.