Margaret R Sáraco

One Dead Fish

One spring day, the stocky old man trudges up the path, 

knocks on our door, head lowered 

cradling a two-and-a-half foot long, fourteen

pound bluefish wrapped in newspaper. 

Mom says, “you didn’t have to do this,”

asks after his mother, eyes averted mumbles

a reply, hands over the package, retreats down the driveway 

favoring his left leg, an old injury in the right one.

Elbowing the door shut she extends her arms 

so the package doesn’t touch her silk blouse

dumps the gift into the kitchen sink

as the scent of dead fish permeates the house.

Furiously, she scrubs her hands, 

ties her hair back with bobby pins and scarf, 

puts on an old apron, and with a sharp knife, 

scales the outers, cuts eyes and innards 

slicing flesh the way mother taught her

wrapping pounds of fillets 

in wax paper and plastic wrap 

as sweat drips down her face. 

Taking the Lord’s name in vain 

with a few damns sprinkled in, 

she yells, “it isn’t even Friday,” 

then phones her sisters.

She has gifts, no one is pleased,

bluefish must be quickly cooked or frozen,

dinner is oily fish, baked, swimming in melted 

margarine, with lemon garnish and parsley.

“Mom was a looker and a good catch,” dad winks,

she frowns, the fish penance for breaking his heart

rejecting his marriage proposal though they never dated. 

“After he saw you, there was no one else.”

My sister and I play with our food but do not, 

cannot, will not, eat it, retreating to the den 

munching pretzels stashed between sofa cushions 

watching “Batman” and the “Flying Nun.”

I imagine the old man, a suburban knight, 

aboard his small, single-engine boat, his armor 

a heavy rain slicker and high rubber boots, 

battling bluefish in frenzied churning waters

fisherman and fish spinning, tumbling

like clothes in a washing machine, he bags his prize, 

presents his spoils, a gift to his lady love,

my mother, though she is bound to another.

Later that summer, a good year for bluefish

the old man slogs up the path

knocks on our door, head lowered 

mom peers out behind the curtains, 

“oh no, not again,” swears a few times

opens the door, he offers a bundle 

wrapped in newspaper, “thank you,” she says, 

“but you really didn’t have to do this.”


Margaret R Sáraco’s poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including Peregrine, Show us Your Papers, Lips, and Exit 13. Her poem, “The Unlocked Door,” received an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest. She recently completed a one-act play, “Catherine and Nina,” about a meeting between St. Catherine of Siena and a teenager in 1973.