After sex I say we need a safe word—
not for rope burns or blindfolds—
but for when he wants to kill himself
and knows, this time, he can pull it off.
He says he’s never seen a lionfish.
I remember before my cousin’s wedding,
as a hurricane backhanded the Alabama coast,
my aunt nestled favors for the reception,
hand-molded, white chocolate seashells,
into coolers of ice in her candlelit kitchen.
From the doorway, my uncle whispered
their saltwater aquarium was starting to die:
five days unfiltered, starfish floating,
algae greening the glass like a rapid frost.
To keep the survivors safe, my aunt dipped
her net into the tank, scooped tang, damsels,
triggerfish, before cornering the poisonous,
feathery predator lurking behind juts of coral
As she lifted the fish and swiveled
toward the waiting plastic bowl, it slipped
the fragile mesh and flailed to the carpet
In the second it took her bare hand to reach
for its striped quills, maybe she weighed
its gulping air against the sting, maybe
she saw herself crying on her kitchen floor,
hovering over the cooler, gazing down
at a seashell, like the goddess of love.
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Robertson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.