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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.

from Surgical WingFind more by Kristin Robertson at the library

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Robertson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.

Published in Kristin Robertson Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.