second place: poetry

fish and eye poem

by jessica modi (university of virginia)

There were more fish kills than usual last summer.

In the canal behind my house

a thousand little fish rose and fell

as one iridescent sleeve of a tattered bay

blowing a pungent film onto land.

The fish float with one bowed eye

facing up, gills stiff from oxygen

depletion—a thousand black eyes swell

to the edge of the dock where I lay.

Two weeks earlier, crammed in the air-conditioned cabin,

I traveled fourteen hours by train–the only female

among hundreds of male eyes. Every shadowed pupil

watched slow undulations of my feigned sleep.

All summer I slept with the smell of fish:

At night my sheets grew too sweaty, tight on my legs.

There are moments when you suffocate,

strange inside, everyone watching,

and you imagine boredom in a new body.

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