Brief Autobiography of a Bottom Feeder
I am born with the gills of an early embryonic stage smiling behind my ears. For a while I am amphibious. I dine with my parents at the table and snack on fish flakes as I lie on my back in the deep tank in which I sleep. My parents wish I would sleep on sheets printed with space ships or sports equipment. They watch in dismay as my preference for water grows more pronounced. My lungs shrivel to vestigial flab. My mouth gapes and closes in time with my gills. I develop the vacant look of a tuna, though I think deeply on the stages of my life. My best friend is a red-tailed shark whom my parents consider a bad influence. All day we bask in the soft, sea-blue fluorescent light or play tag around a figurine of a pirate with the head of an octopus, a toothy mouth leering between the tentacles. My parents say I must get a job, so I work scraping algae from the inside of the glass with my teeth. At last I have something in common with the pretty clown loach, whose way of scouring the gravel with her soft-whiskered lips makes me tremble with desire. I court and marry her. My mother stops speaking to me. My father swallows hard when he sees his grandchildren. They wave tiny webbed hands and grin like sea monkeys in comic book ads. He mouths through the glass, How will they make friends their own age in the neighborhood? I never learn the answer. A green fungus grows over my skin that repeated water treatments do not cure. Little by little, my gills slow. When not scouring the gravel, my wife lies in the shadows of a painted coral grotto, only her tail visible. With my fading tuna stare, I think my parents are vague black columns beyond the glass. My children hover around me on webbed feet. Their scaly mouths curl into small black Os. Tiny bubbles lift away from the corners of their eyes.
Mark Seidl lives in Upstate New York. When not tending to the inhabitants of his home aquarium, he reads and writes poetry and works toward a Master of Library Science degree. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arsenic Lobster, Good Foot, and Two Rivers Review.