Carl Wycoff CC
Dad says I should’ve been born a catfish because every day for 9 months
Mom ate them simmered in catfish head stew. Dad grits his teeth when he’s mad.
We smack gum the same way, and I learn from him how to be stubborn as a fish. Slippery and moss-backed, I swim through every patch of moss. Dad says I’m like a mudcat, shovelheaded. He teaches me how to dip a bush hook off Sevenmile Island.
He tells me again: Be stubborn as a fish. Refuse to die.
When I kill my first,
I gut it living because it tastes better, because it can’t feel anyway.
Dad holds the slipping body still. I set a steel black nail above one wild roving eye
and drive it through until brown scales sever and stretch. Muscles jerk against my hands. The fishy eye bulges from the hard metal pressure and blots red.
I think of orange sunsets
tiny shredded tangerines. I imagine the wet screech of metal meeting spine
is something else—a soft chop to the green stem of a red orchid.
We eat the body for dinner but leave the head on a shelf in the garage until the skin puckers like cockled paper. I stare at him for hours, studying the pearl eyes
pulled forward by time nearly to the empty space where a human nose is missing.
I learn to count by the fish’s bald spots. I hide lucky pennies in the bulge of his lower lip until it crumbles and falls to fangless snarl.
They come later to fish me from the river
in tatters, they clean the guts from my jerking breathless body. I think of grinning catfish
who can’t feel anyway. I bare my teeth. My Dad says to me: Be stubborn as a fish. Refuse to die.
The Sipsey Creature Bore a Curse
onto the people of the foothills who live along the river: may your lands lush green,
and may your hearts wither to concrete and dirt.
Over gravy and biscuits, the old men are quick to say the Creature is not to blame.
She carries the birth hunger inside her.
She is like the rest of us—christened in blood. All the foothill people know
what it is to be born in a land torn at its throat. Our stories all end the same way.
The ones new to whiskers tell their grandfather’s stories—the ones about
mud-skulked river bottoms and witches that birth beasts from soft snake eggs.
Some say the Sipsey Creature was laid in the mouth of a mourning dove, others say
She burst from a widow’s head or throat in a fit of fur.
But she was born at the crooked elbow where the forest ebbs. The oldest men
claim to have known her, but the stories of men are often wrong.
Some say she was born the size of a bear and gifted by God with birdsong. They all say she did not
belong to the pine world.
Her thick fur was too slick, and the Creature couldn’t help but feast on her friends.
She ripened and budded breasts, but no animals grew to love her—or so it is said.
She was bizarre and abandoned to the crushing embrace of the riverbank,
but lovers found her there. Women and men both wanted to wear her skin.
The stories all end the same way. She sang a curse onto the people along the river:
may your lands lush green, and may your hearts wither to concrete and dirt.
For a hundred years, they hunted her. In stories, they still do. But men see panthers
where there are begonias, and all creatures are human at the root.
The truth is she’s been gone a long time. We lost her to the river, but no one remembers. The
stories of men are often wrong.
Liz is a writer without a large intestine trying to write gut-punching fiction and poetry. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Alabama in 2016, and her MFA from McNeese State University in 2020. In 2019 and 2020, Liz served as the Managing Editor of the McNeese Review and organized MSU's graduate reading series. She is the first place recipient of the 2019 and 2020 Joy Scantlebury Poetry Prizes, and her work has been published in Strange Horizons, Jabberwock Review, and diode poetry journal. She currently lives in Garland, TX.
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