Poetry by Albert Garcia from A Meal Like That
The mosquitofish in the pond
wait for the insect to lay its eggs,
for the wriggling larvae to hatch.
Then they swim over, slurp up
their little meal and retreat
to the lily pads’ shelter
having saved me from the irritating welts
of early summer. Wouldn’t it be great
if we could all gorge ourselves
to protect each other? I’d take on
a sixteen ounce porterhouse and a bottle
of Syrah to keep my mother
from the chronic ache in her joints.
Would a meal like that
save my friend from the dark
pain of his marriage
ending—or salve my wife’s
migraines with cool relief?
Give me a wide wedge of that banana
cream pie so I can shelter you,
my friendly reader, from the diseased hours
of your day. Let us sit
at the table, reach across each other
for extra helpings of potatoes and gravy.
Of course, the mosquitofish
know not what they do. They eat
to fill their one-inch silver bellies,
oblivious to good or harm. Perhaps
it’s better that way, to rescue
by accident, swimming through algae
each day of your life, never knowing you stop
the rash before it starts. Just think,
as you slather butter on bread,
tearing at the crusty heel of sourdough
with your teeth, how good you are.
You could be saving us now.
Before the gifts and wrappings, before
tins of shortbread my grandmother sent
every year, before Confession, before Mass, before I knew
what I didn’t want to know, I’d lie
beneath the tree, near the heater vent,
listening to the rumble of warmth
beneath the house, smelling the carpet,
the pine-fresh basin of water
in the stand. Of course I’d dream
of impossible gifts: fishing rods, guns
I was too young for, elaborate electric football
games where the plastic players sprinted
down the sideline on a cushion of air.
My dreams were simple: catch a long bomb
from John Brodie, catch a big trout.
This was before I knew love is pain
wrapped in shining paper, that the dream
itself is the gift. I would lie
under that silver tip, picking off short needles,
pinching them to smell
what was right on hand, what I already knew
was a season of hope, what I’d carry with me
into the world of Santa and Jesus.
Boy Cleaning Trout
His father taught him
the belly, the only white part,
should give with the tip of his knife,
so he keeps pushing until its soft flesh splits
and the blade slides easily
up between fins to the head.
Just down riffle, his father watches
the boy spreading it open. The meat
should be his first concern: orange-red
it's native, white
it’s fed in a hatchery—no taste.
He looks for its sex,
a pearly skein of roe the color of cantaloupe
or a thin thread of sperm
tucked back against its spine.
He works his fingers
under the cool entrails, pulls hard,
tosses all but the white tube,
the gut, into the stream. This
he squeezes between finger and thumb
to see a gray mash,
the fish’s last meal of mayflies.
His knuckles white-red with cold, he rubs
the cavity thoroughly, rinses, then hooks
the burgundy feathers hidden
under shining flaps of its head.
His father taught him long ago
that these take oxygen from water,
that all living things need oxygen.
He notices the little cloud escaping his lips
and remembers the fish’s mouth
opening and opening, gills
lifting in what looked like exhaustion
but could have been pain.
First Communion, 1970
The first time I hold my tongue out
for the priest, I fear
his white fingers will touch
my mouth above the gold plate
in the alter boy’s hesitant hand.
There I kneel at the oak rail,
staring at the statue of Jesus,
his red, revealed heart,
a plum circled with thorns.
I feel the gaze of St. Patrick
peering down from the stained glass,
serpent pinned beneath his feet.
I feel Sister Mary Raymond’s hope
I’ll become a priest,
she who gave our catechism class
keychain medals of Neil Armstrong’s
“one small step” and warned us
never to forget this miracle,
this act of God. I swallow—
the scratchy host
nearly catching in my throat—
return to the cool comfort
of my pew. Saints and angels look down
from the ceiling, down
upon my slicked hair.
I am seven years old. My new
Rosary beads shine black,
a clutch of ripe elderberries
in my small hands.
On the church’s front steps after Mass,
I join my class for a photo,
starched white shirts and ruffled dresses,
black ties and tulle veils—
everyone squinting into the blaze
of spring sun that hangs over Main Street.
I’m the one in the middle
with the worried smile,
asking myself how the Lord decides
who raises lunar dust
with his steps, who stands
behind the altar in flowing vestments.
Awkward in my nicest clothes, I struggle
to look at the camera, to focus,
wondering if God, resting in my stomach
even now, knows who I am.
To be like Jesus, I gave up
lemon drops and black licorice,
which I didn’t like anyway.
It wasn’t exactly wandering
forty days in the desert,
but it was sacrifice
since I would have used both
to barter with friends
for cat eye marbles or baseball cards.
Oh, I knew what was coming.
Every year a man suffered
on a cross, was given vinegar
to drink, was mocked by a crowd
while his friends shrunk away
in fear or shame. Every year
I prepared for this
by giving something up
and confessing to the priest
that I’d taken the Lord’s name
in vain, had been mean
to my sisters, had disobeyed
my parents. These sins earned me
ten Our Fathers of penance,
prayers to be said immediately,
kneeling in the dark cavern of the church,
staring at the statue of Jesus
hanging sinewy on the cross.
That’s where I saw him
every Sunday, suspended
in front of the congregation,
watching me fidget in the pew,
knowing my every impure thought
while I stared at the stained-glass
saints in the windows. They stared
back with Jesus like teachers
waiting for me to turn in a test.
I searched my soul, or tried,
not knowing exactly where to find it,
worried it had already slipped away
and gone outside where the spring air
was hot and light, where you could taste
pleasure on the breeze.