It is quiet in my house tonight. We dropped my son off at Bible camp this afternoon. He will be gone for the week. My daughter is at her boyfriend's house, and my wife is asleep after a long weekend of birthday parties and weddings and wedding receptions. I am pretty tired myself.
This week, I plan to rest and relax a little. Read. Write. Be a little introverted. Believe it or not, I have always seen myself as an introvert. I find public gatherings a little exhausting. After this weekend, I'm absolutely dead. Ready to hibernate.
Tonight's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired a year ago, when I was in a confessing mood . . .
July 16, 2016: Goldfish Bowl, Augustus, a Confession
Something else is happening in the goldfish bowl. There on the
kitchen table, nourished by the simple plank of complex light, the
plankton is blooming. The water yellows and clouds; a transparent slime
coats the leaves of the water plant, elodea; a blue-green film of
single-celled algae clings to the glass. And I have to clean the
doggone bowl. I'll spare you the details: it's the plant I'm
interested in. While Ellery [Dillard's goldfish] swims in the stoppered
sink, I rinse the algae down the drain of another sink, wash the
gravel, and rub the elodea's many ferny leaves under running water until
they feel clean.
Dillard buys a goldfish. She
puts it in a bowl on her kitchen table. If anyone would know how to
take proper care of a goldfish, it's Dillard, who makes a habit of
examining the complexities of the universe, from dwarf planets to red
blood cells. Ellery is in good hands.
Let me tell you a
little story about my attempt at raising goldfish. I was quite young
at the time (let's say eight years old). One day, my older brother
brought me to the local Woolworth's store and bought me a goldfish. It
was a spur-of-the-moment thing, if I remember correctly. I carried the
fishbowl into my bedroom and put it on my dresser. I don't remember if I
ever named the fish, but let's call him Augustus.
was a good fish. When I sprinkled food on the top of his water, he
rose and munched, drifted back down to watch the show outside of his
bowl for a while, and then rose again for another bite. Sort of like
sitting in front the the television, eating pizza. The first week of
Augustus' life was great.
Then, the novelty of owning a
fish wore off. I was eight years old and had a busy life. I still fed
him, at night, just before bed. But something started happening in his
bowl. The glass got a little slimy, and the water started giving off a
slightly funky aroma. My bedroom started to smell a little like dead
worms. One day, my mother told me, "You need to clean that fishbowl."
never in my eight-year-old mind did I contemplate the possibility that
owning a goldfish would require that kind of care. I thought it would
simply be a matter of sprinkling a few flakes of food into the bowl
every day, and that was it. Augustus would clean his own room, just
So, I cleaned the fishbowl. A week later, the
dead worm smell returned. My mother made me clean it again. Another
week, more dead worm smell. I was done. I came up with what I thought
was a brilliant idea. Now, please remember that I was eight-years-old
and had no concept of the biology of living things. After I cleaned
Augustus' fishbowl and filled it with fresh water, I added some dish
soap to keep it cleaner for a little longer.
Augustus back in his bowl, quite pleased with myself, and went off to
fight Captain Hook or Darth Vader. That night, as I was getting ready
for bed, I looked over at Augustus.
There he was, doing
the back float at the surface of the water. At first, I thought he was
simply practicing a fishy version of the backstroke. But, after
tapping his belly a few times with my finger and seeing him bob up and
down like a piece of cork, I realized that my goldfish had gone to the
Big Lake in the Sky.
I quickly gave Augustus a burial
at sea in the toilet, dumped out and washed the fishbowl, and put all
the incriminating evidence away, hoping nobody would notice. My mother
never said a word. I think she was happily relieved that the great
goldfish experiment was over.
I tell you this story as a confession. I am a goldfish murderer.
It was Saint Marty, in the bedroom, with the Dawn detergent.,
And a poem for this quiet summer night . . .
What I'd Be
by: Martin Achatz
weren't a poet.
The question stops me,
makes me think of teenage
summers when I installed
water heaters with my dad,
hauled empty tanks up
cellar steps, sagged wood,
away from canned tomatoes,
screws and nuts sorted
into baby food jars, secret
places where dirty laundry
breathed with spider and mouse.
Midnight shift at a hospital,
I cleaned the morgue
each night until I met
the body of an old woman,
wrapped in white sheets,
left on a table like scraps
from a rained-out picnic,
her face yellow as melted butter.
In a book store,
I organized porn,
paired magazines of foot fetish
with magazines of hairy legs,
girls with serpent stares,
breasts like icebergs
in National Geographic,
boys with shoplifted smirks,
penises, gibbous moons in the black
curl of universe. I would not
do any of these jobs again,
given the choice. If words
were taken from me,
maybe I'd turn to some
other sound occupation,
climb to my roof,
sit with mourning doves,
bubble, cluck daybreak to dusk.
Or maybe ransack woods
for skulls of squirrels,
ribs of deer, skunk spines
left behind by hungry owl, wolf,
piece together these scrimshaw
remnants with thread or chain,
hang them on my porch,
let them sing all night
of chase and hunt, dark grass,
fat, ripe blueberries.
Or maybe, just maybe,
I'd eat the silence,
make it part of me.
I'll practice this August
evening for my new career,
go outside, watch my son ride
his bike up and down
the street, not shout at him
about cars, trucks,
curbs and uneven sidewalks.
No, I'll let myself fill up,
rise like bubbles of yeast in dough,
with the quiet ferment of love.